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Concord High creates new ways for students to anonymously report sexual harassment or assault

  • Concord High assistant principal Jim Corkum watches the video the school has produced to introduce new programs put in place on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • The tip box located in the hallways at Concord High School on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School junior Katie Levesque talk with assistant principals, Jim Corkum (center) and Tim Herbert near one of the boxes that students can drop off anonymous tips for reporting concerns at the school on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School junior Katie Levesque talks with assistant principals Jim Corkum (center) and Tim Herbert near one of the boxes that students can drop off anonymous tips for reporting concerns at the school on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Tamara Khudair (left) and Amanda Gamache glance at the new anonymous reporting slips that CHS has put in drop boxes around the school for students to report something suspicious.

  • Tamara Khudair, (left) Aaliyah Mercado (middle) Amanda Gamache (right) discuss the issues at Concord High School on Wednesday, October 9, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/10/2019 5:54:50 PM

Black lockboxes went up in nooks and crannies in Concord High School this week, tucked in discreet places where crowds of students rarely gather.

Laminated pieces of paper hang over them reading, “See Something, Say Something.”

Cards in the boxes allow students check options if they have concerns about drug or alcohol use, weapons, sexual assault, threats, violence, assault, sexual harassment, suicide threats or other issues.

“We encourage you to speak with someone at school,” the card reads.

“We want to make sure students feel like they have a comfortable place to go to ask for help,” said Jim Corkum, an assistant principal at Concord High School. “Especially if they feel nervous to, aren’t ready to or don’t want to come talk to one of us.”

The “tip boxes” installed Monday are part of a new initiative called “Your CHS Voice,” being launched at the high school to improve the culture around reporting and talking about sexual assault, harassment and abuse following the arrest of a teacher at the school last year on charges of raping a former Concord student. Administrators introduced the boxes to students this week in a video to the school community where they went over the school’s new policy on reporting.

The video is the first in a series that will be presented to students in their advisory periods, covering topics like harassment, bullying and teacher-student relations, Corkum said.

The school will also be launching an online tip portal in the coming weeks. Both that portal and the tip boxes – four of them in Commons A, B, D and in the CRTC – will be checked by administrators every day.

Administrators at Concord High have been implementing the changes at the start of the school year at the same time the community still has questions about former teacher Howie Leung, who was arrested in April, and how school officials handled reports of students who complained about his relationships with female students.

Corkum and Concord High’s other assistant principals, Tom Crumrine, Tim Herbert and Steve Rothenberg have been leading school for almost four months since Concord High School’s Principal Tom Sica has been on administrative leave.

Sica went on leave after a student came forward saying that she was suspended by him when she was in middle school for saying that Leung’s behavior with her female classmates made her uncomfortable.

The school board hired an independent investigator from Massachusetts to investigate those events, in 2014 and other reports to administrators by students about Leung in 2018. Concord’s Superintendent Terri Forsten was put on paid leave after the release of the report while the board maintained Tom Sica’s paid leave of absence.

The public has not seen the report, and does not yet know why the administrators were placed on leave. School Board President Jennifer Patterson has said the report “accomplished its goal,” which was to investigate the actions of school officials.

Based on his conversations with students, Corkum said they are looking for more transparency and to be more involved in school decisions.

“One thing kids expressed was they want to know the ‘why’ behind things that happened, of course, they want to be included in that, which makes sense,” he said.

Those aren’t answers he can give them right now.

“At this point, they know as much as we do,” he said.

The need for more transparency was something that several students echoed while leaving campus for the day on Wednesday. The videos were presented to students on Tuesday and Wednesday. They said they need an acknowledgment of where the district went wrong before they can really engage in student safety plans for the future.

“I feel like this is good if you hear something going on at someone’s house that could be concerning and you’re worried about them, but not about everything that happened last year,” senior Tamara Khudair, said of the tip boxes that went up around the school.

“Reports were given last year, and nothing was taken care of so I don’t think that’s going to make any students want to report this year,” Aaliyah Mercado said. “With the whole ‘See something, Say something’ – we said something and nothing was done.”

Leung remained at school for 3½ months after students reported seeing him kiss a female student in a car. An art teacher and a guidance counselor, in their roles with the teachers union, tried to discredit the report by the girls and said the school district was going too far by reporting Leung to the Department of Education.

State education officials contacted the Concord Police Department, which initiated a criminal investigation.

“The school needs to win back our trust,” said senior Cadence Solsky.

Corkum said administrators have been having conversations with teachers and students about how the school can best serve students.

At a faculty meeting on Oct. 3, the staff brainstormed more than 100 ideas, which are now being sorted and analyzed, on how the school can engage young people with programming on student safety. Corkum said he’s hoping that in the next few videos presented to the school community, students will participate and be the focus.

The school pulled in students in August for a few clubs for a focus group on safety where they also collected ideas. They have student representatives to the school board that will be attending the next few meetings.

“We knew going into this, that the missing piece is the students,” he said, of the first video presentations, which featured the school’s assistant principals introducing the tip boxes and reading through the district’s reporting policy. “But at this point, with these boxes going up, we needed to get the information out to kids. This is just a first step.”

Administrators chose to present the videos during students’ advisory period, which every ninth to the eleventh grader attends once a week. They are groups of 12 to 15 students from the same grade who meet once a week for 25 minutes. Seniors who take English classes saw the video during that class.

Each video had an exit card at the end online where students had the option to request to be part of a larger or intimate discussion on reporting, bullying and harassment, and could confidentially submit questions and concerns. Yesterday afternoon administrators had received 500 responses and just under 200 had indicated they would want to help out.

Concord High’s new assistant principal this year, Timothy Herbert, said students are looking for administrators and teachers to be safe people they can talk to.

“The biggest feedback from students this year and despite everything that’s going on, they want us to still form positive relationships with them,” he said. “It’s really been that positive teacher-student relationship that’s been emphasized over and over by the students.”

Since the start of the school year, all district staff have been trained in the new policies with a focus on reporting. Two hundred volunteers were also trained in person last week, and there are more sessions scheduled throughout the month.

Initiatives like “Your CHS Voice” are being rolled out not just at Concord High, but at all district schools. Rundlett will be getting tip boxes soon. In the elementary schools, students worked in larger groups and at grade and classroom levels with age-appropriate children’s literature.

Although students said they appreciate efforts that have been made district-wide, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“I feel like the school needs to apologize,” senior Amanda Gamache said. “A video isn’t enough.”

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