Concord School Board revisits harassment policies following teacher’s arrest

Monitor staff
Published: 5/23/2019 5:51:26 PM

The Concord School Board took a look at its sexual harassment policies this week as community frustration around the arrest of a high school teacher continues to grow.

It’s too early to say whether the district’s two sexual harassment policies will be revised in the wake of the arrest of Concord High School teacher Primo “Howie” Leung, who is facing charges of sexually assaulting a student. But the school board started discussing this week whether its policies could be improved.

Meanwhile, community members say they want more transparency from the district about how the district’s policies were applied and why officials never contacted police about their investigation of Leung.

“So many of us thought he (Leung) was great,” said Dellie Champagne, whose son attended Rundlett Middle School when Leung worked there. Her son is no longer in the district. “...We want solid answers on how this is never going to happen again.”

Leung, 36, is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a Concord middle school student in the city and at a summer program in Massachusetts following police investigations in both states. The victim in the criminal case is no longer a student at Concord High.

Leung remained at Concord High for 3½ months after the school district first received a report on Dec. 10 that Leung had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” with an 18-year-old female student, who is not the victim Leung is accused of sexually assaulting as a middle school student.

They reported their investigation to the Department of Education but not Concord police, who learned of the incident through the DOE. Leung was arrested on April 3.

Concord School Board President Jennifer Patterson sent a letter to the community last week in response to concerned community members who voiced about how the district handled its investigation.

In that letter, she said people’s concerns were “reasonable,” but that the school board’s ability to talk about the incident was limited by faculty and student privacy laws. She also said the district’s investigative process worked because it led to Leung’s arrest.

“The process worked in the sense that the district’s decision to turn to the Department of Education, and the department’s decision to turn to the Concord Police, were what revealed the need for further action which has been taken,” she wrote.

But Lisabritt Stevens, who has a daughter at Concord High School, said she didn’t feel like the communication was sincere.

“I feel like their communications are more calculated,” she said. “... I feel like if the impression from parents is that the district is covering for itself, it’s hard to believe they’re thinking about the best interest of kids.”

Champagne was head of the Rundlett Middle School parent-teacher organization when Leung was at the school. She said she was “blown away” by the news of his arrest and felt “duped” by him.

She said she was also disappointed by what she saw as a lack of outreach by the district. Specifically, Champagne said she would like the district to encourage anyone who thinks their child might have been targeted by Leung to come forward.

‘Protect people whoneed protecting’

Members of the school board met for a communications and policy meeting Wednesday to refresh themselves on the district’s two policies regarding sexual harassment. One policy deals specifically with faculty harassment, while the other addresses student harassment.

The student’s policy, No. 521, says one factor to be considered in an investigation is whether the harasser is in a position of power over the student subjected to that abuse.

But school board members said it was unclear whether the student’s policy was meant to include employee-on-student harassment or if it was just addressing student-on-student instances.

Board member Barbara Higgins said it should be made clear that employee-on-student instances will not be tolerated.

“It might make sense for us as a district to protect people who need protecting,” she said. “... There’s too much wiggle room in an already gray area.”

The student’s policy is available online and in the student handbook. But school board member Jim Richards questioned whether students and teachers even read the handbook and know what the policies are.

“It’s a simple question, one that is extremely basic and the foundation of what we’re talking about,” he said.

Board members also discussed whether policies made it clear to students how to report any instances of harassment.

The conversation is expected to continue into June at the committee’s next meeting.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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