For some Concord School District parents, frustrations linger

Monitor staff
Published: 1/25/2020 9:00:31 PM

Concord School District officials have put together a committee of community members to advise the school board on how to move forward after the arrest of a teacher for sexual assault last year.

However, not everyone who was invited to join the group has agreed to participate.

At least three of the invited parents declined: Dan Habib and Melissa Hinebauch – whose children had Leung as a teacher – and Kate Frey, whose daughter was suspended by the administration after she came forward with concerns about how Howie Leung, the arrested teacher, treated students in middle school.

There are 25 total members on the committee, a mix of students, parents, staff and community partners.

Parents who declined to join cited the lack of information about how district officials responded to concerns about Leung before his arrest.

“There’s still, unfortunately, this black hole of knowledge in our community that is still very troubling,” Dan Habib said at the school board’s December meeting.

Parents have expressed frustration over the school board’s failure to disclose why it voted to terminate the contracts of the superintendent and principal. That decision was made after board members read an independent investigator’s report on district officials’ response to reports about Leung, who was arrested in April.

The investigation addressed reports from several female Concord High students who went to the administration after seeing Leung kiss a female classmate in a car outside the high school in December 2018. As school administrators investigated, Leung remained at the school for 3½ months.

“One year later, the community still doesn’t know how Howie Leung stayed in the school for 3½ months alongside students like my son, what people in the Concord School District and Concord High School who were in positions of leadership or influence did or did not do to enable Howie Leung to stay in the school, even after complaints surfaced about him years before this,” Habib said.

“We don’t know specifically what systemic or cultural issues contributed to it. We could make assumptions based on report number two, but that’s not a safe thing to do. We don’t have any information about what happened last year,” he said.

Habib said he struggled with his decision on whether to join the task force, which will focus on drafting a strategic plan for implementing recommendations from Massachusetts attorney Djuna Perkins, presenting that plan to the school board and giving feedback on the implementation process.

Perkins’s recommendations included conducting a climate survey of staff, students and families, creating a comprehensive protocol for responding to sexual misconduct concerns and increased training in the warning signs for predatory behavior.

“I don’t feel like I have the foundational information, or the mindset, to participate on the committee with where we are right now in the CSD,” Habib wrote in an email to Assistant Superintendent Donna Palley after she invited him to join the task force. “There are just too many unknowns, and a lack of actual information about the problems in the systems and culture that led to the events of last year. And as a result, I don’t yet feel the sense of shared understanding and openness that I feel we’ll need to do this work in a deep and meaningful way.”

Frey also declined. The incident involving her daughter, Ana Goble, in 2014 was within the purview of the investigation. After reading the report, the board voted to terminate Concord High School principal Tom Sica, who had previously been the principal of Rundlett Middle School.

“When I looked at the list of participants, I thought parents and community members were well represented, and it does feel like progress is being made,” Frey said. “But we don’t have the full picture in order to identify if we are really making a difference. It’s hard to move on with a strategic plan when we don’t know what happened. There is no baseline to compare to. I feel like there is a certain amount of rushing to move forward without having all of the pieces of the puzzle in place.”

“I think what the board and district leadership wants to do is say, ‘Okay, we’ve moved on; the superintendent and principal are no longer with the district,’ but that doesn’t fix everything,” Frey added. “There were still systematic failures that happened at levels below them, for years, and we need to understand what happened to ensure that it never happens again.”

The committee, which is meeting monthly, had its first meeting on Nov. 26. Its meetings are nonpublic. It will be facilitated by Gerri King, “a nationally recognized organizational facilitator,” according to the district. She will be paid $1,820 per every seven hours spent meeting with the committee. 

There are seven staff members on the committee: science teacher Lise Bofinger, English teacher Kaileen Chilauskas, school nurse Erin Stewart, district technology director Pam McLeod, Concord High Assistant Principal Jim Corkum, school counselor Becky Schaeffer and educational assistant Jessica Jordan.

There are five student representatives, including Alice Richards and Gaven Brown, who are student representatives to the Concord School Board.

Community partners include: Gina Clairmont, program director of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire; Jen Pierson, executive director of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire; Bethany Cottrell, human services director of Merrimack County Services; Melissa Vermette, DCYF supervisor; Linda Douglas, trauma informed services specialist at the Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence; Jeff Maher, independent compliance overseer for St. Paul’s School; Ellyn Schreiber, children’s program director at Riverbend; Brad Osgood, Concord police chief; and Jillian Burns, program manager of the Merrimack County Advocacy Center.

In addition, there are three parent representatives: Max Schultz, Maureen Adams and Allie Maltais.

Schultz, a parent of one student at Rundlett and two at Concord High who unsuccessfully ran for school board last year, said he learned a lot while campaigning for school board about community members’ concerns and wanted to find a way to continue to be involved.

“I have no control over what information they’re going to release,” he said. “But even from our perspectives and the public, we know enough about it to help formulate a plan and policies that can prevent something like this from happening again.”

“I don’t think I need to put my foot down and say, ‘I’m not going to help because I don’t have all the information,’ ” he said. “Would I like to know more about it? Absolutely. But they have attorneys, victims they need to protect; they have a complex situation to navigate. I don’t think that should stop the forward progress of making the district safer.”

Schultz said he sees the issue of information being released as a separate from taking steps to make the district safer. “Yes, I’d like to see more information released, but we have enough information now to know policies were not in place that protected the kids. It’s not moving forward like forgive, forget. It’s saying we are going to protect the kids despite lack of information we have received.”

Schultz said a lot of people felt the school district did not communicate well, and that there wasn’t much accountability on whether parents’ and teachers’ concerns were being properly handled. Those issues were major topics of conversation at the committee’s first meeting, he said.

When pressed at the board’s December meeting about whether the board will release any information from the report, member Tom Croteau said the issue was discussed at length.

“We’ve had discussions, more than a couple, about whether or not we could release some, part or all, or none, of that report. Trust me, we have listened and we have heard and we’ve had those discussions. Our responses from our attorney is that we will not and cannot discuss that report or give out any part of that report,” he said.

“Part of the answer is that the way the report is written is that if you read paragraph 1, 2, 3 and 4 you would know the entire report, and we cannot give that sort of information,” he added. “That’s the dilemma. There are people sitting in this room right now who would be happy to give that report out if it were not going to endanger students or innocent staff.”

Interim Superintendent Frank Bass said the report revealed “systems failures mostly centering around communication.”

“The No. 1 thing we have to do here is to tighten up the communication protocols and be certain that folks know who is to say what and when to say it and under what conditions. I can’t get into any more detail than that,” he said.

The Concord Monitor, ACLU of New Hampshire and parent Dellie Champagne have sued the district to release the report.

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