Concord community demands answers as details in Leung, Title IX cases come to light

  • From left: Concord School District administrators Kris Gallo, Steve Rothenberg, Susan Lauze and Steve Mello attended a July 1 school board meeting as members of the Concord Administrators Association. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor photo

Monitor staff
Published: 7/2/2019 6:42:55 PM

The only way Gina Cannon knows something is wrong with her daughter is when she hides in her room.

Cannon, whose daughter has communication and anxiety disorders, told Concord School Board members that she is afraid to send her daughter to Concord High next year on the bus.

After learning that a student is suing the district, alleging that its administrators improperly investigated her report of being sexually assaulted on a bus and failed to make accommodations to ensure her safety, she wondered whether her daughter would be protected.

“How can I send her to school – it’s mandatory, I have to send her to school – how can I send her to school and know she might not be safe?” Cannon said. “And if she’s not safe, there’s no way for her to feel safe, because her reporting, if she is able to do it, is not going to be taken seriously.”

Cannon was just one of many community members, including school district administrators and a victim advocate, who spoke during Monday’s meeting. Most said they were disappointed and frustrated with how Concord’s school officials have handled allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

Much of the conversation has centered around the district’s investigation of Howie Leung, a special education teacher who is charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a former student in Concord and at a boarding school in Massachusetts.

The school district investigated Leung after three students reported seeing him kiss a student in a car in December 2018. After placing him on an improvement plan, the district informed the Department of Education of their investigation, who then turned it over to Concord police. Leung remained at Concord High for 3½ months before he was put on paid leave at the end of March. He was arrested by Concord police April 3.

The school board decided to investigate the handling of that incident and the 2014 suspension of Ana Goble, who as a 13-year-old student at Rundlett Middle School, felt Leung’s behavior toward certain female students was inappropriate and tried to report it, but was suspended by Principal Tom Sica for “malicious and slanderous gossip.”

The district has since reached a settlement that includes nullifying Goble’s suspension, conducting district-wide training on Title IX discrimination and sexual misconduct, repaying legal and counseling fees, and a face-to-face apology.

The board has begun revising its policies and will continue the process July 8.

Kate Frey, Goble’s mother, said her family is still waiting for the district to apologize a month after the settlement was reached. She said the only way parents will trust the district is if it operates in a more transparent manner going forward.

“The whitewashing of the facts, the minimizing of other people’s truths in order to protect those in charge and at fault, the covering up of past missteps, the hiding behind the excuses of ‘protecting confidentiality’ and ‘pending investigations’ and quite frankly, the lying, must stop now,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.

Recent revelations – including that a CHS guidance counselor and an art teacher tried to discredit the three girls who saw Leung in December while acting in their roles as union representatives, and that the district is involved in a Title IX lawsuit – had other community members calling for more oversight.

“I believe the school district cannot lead this community out of this crisis on its own,” said Betsy McNamara. She said Leung was the case manager for her son for six years.

“... The school district must step away from creating policy and training in response to this crisis. It must create a citizen-led oversight committee to partner in this process,” she said. “The school district not only has a crisis of sexual assault. It also has a crisis of confidence.”

Parents weren’t the only people displeased with how information has been handled. Jennifer Pierson, program director for the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, said school officials should have known to take the various reports of sexual misconduct to authorities due to New Hampshire being a mandatory reporting state for instances of child abuse or neglect.

“Mandatory reporting is just that: mandatory,” she said.

The Concord Administrators Association and the New Hampshire Education Association also attended to weigh in.

Jason Faria, who helps teachers’ unions through grievances and contract negotiations as an employee of NEA, was at the meeting to ensure any employee-specific talk was kept under wraps.

“I just want to make sure that ... personnel matters are not going to be discussed in open session,” he said.

NEA officials previously said the letters written by union members trying to disprove Leung’s student accusers were meant to go in Leung’s file and not serve as public communication. The letters were provided to the Monitor through a right-to-know request to the school district.

Several principals and administrators said they want to be more involved in the process, including the ongoing independent investigation.

“With regards to the current situation, what has been shared publicly has not included any input from us,” said Susan Lauze, principal of Broken Ground Elementary School.

Sitting with Kris Gallo of McAuliffe Elementary School, district athletic director Steve Mello and CHS assistant principal Steven Rothenberg, Lauze said the administrators’ union welcomes the investigation and said they expect its conclusions to be shared.

“Knowing the full story is essential,” she said. “... It is essential that the investigator has access to all people and all records to ensure a fair and just process.”

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