First day of school in Concord pushed back for teacher training, Sica to remain on paid leave 

  • Linda Mattlage holds up a sign at Monday night’s Concord School Board meeting at Mill Brook School. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Concord Superintendent of Schools Terri Forsten, left, and School Board Chair Jennifer Patterson listen to testimony at the board meeting Monday night at the Mill Brook School. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 8/6/2019 10:48:15 AM

Concord High School principal Tom Sica remains on paid leave and will not be at work when students return for the first day of school, which will be a day later than planned due to staff-wide training.

An investigation into whether Sica followed district policies after students came forward with concerns about a teacher who was later charged with sexually assaulting a student will need to be completed before determining when or if Sica will return, Concord School Board President Jen Patterson said.

“That status will continue until the board receives and reviews the report and considers what is in the report,” Patterson said.

“We do have a strong administrative team in place and they will be there,” Patterson said about the Concord High staff.

With the recent departure of Assistant Principal Chali Davis, who moved to Milford High School, no women are among Concord High’s top administrators.

Sica has been on voluntary leave since June, after a Concord High student, Ana Goble, revealed she was suspended after coming forward with concerns about how special education teacher Howie Leung treated female students when she was attending Rundlett Middle School in 2014.

Patterson said the investigation into that incident, and how the school handled students who came forward last school year with concerns about Leung, will likely not be completed before Labor Day, Sept. 2.

A Massachusetts-based attorney, Djuna Perkins, is handling the investigation into the district’s handling of students who came forward with concerns about Leung. Perkins is the founder of DP Law and former prosecutor and chief of the Boston District Attorney’s Domestic Violence Unit.

Leung was arrested in April and is facing charges of sexually assaulting a former Concord student in and around Rundlett and at the Fessenden Summer ELL Program in Newton, Mass., during the summers of 2015 and 2016.

Board members voted Monday night to push back the first day of school in Concord so the district can train all staff in “Know and Tell,” which is a program from the New Hampshire Children’s Alliance for professionals who are required to report any suspected child abuse. The district will also review its new sexual harassment policy with staff.

The training will be mandatory for all employees in the district, Forsten said.

“We are looking for absolutely all staff, from teachers, to ed assistants, to custodians to bus drivers to food service support to central office team to all of our administrative and secretarial staff – all across the board, everyone who is an employee of the Concord School District will be participating in the Know and Tell training,” Forsten said.

“This is in direct response to our public feedback that we get this training done before the school year began,” said school board member Thomas Croteau. “We know this is a big step, changing the school year calendar, the beginning of the school year is a big, big deal. But it’s important.”

Students in the capital city will return to school on Wednesday, Aug. 28 instead of Aug. 27. The last day of school will not be affected.

Forsten said the school is in the process of updating its student, parent and faculty handbooks. The district passed a number of updated policies Monday on bullying prevention, mandatory reporting and professional expectations for staff.

Monday night’s meeting was moved from the district’s offices on Liberty Street to Mill Brook School in East Concord to accommodate all of the people who wished to attend. Nearly 100 people attended the meeting in the auditorium, and 32 spoke during public comment.

A few parents questioned whether the upcoming report, once completed, will be made public. They asked that the board release the report with names redacted if they are concerned about revealing personal or private information.

“I think it’s essential that the school board releases the report to the absolute greatest extent that they possibly can,” said Dan Habib, a father of two children who attended school in the district. “I truly believe the community is not going to get past this until we understand what happened, what could have happened, who could have stopped it and those who decided not to stop some of the abuse that’s happened.”

Fellow parent Penny Duffy said she appreciates the district’s efforts to update its policies over the summer, yet she needs to see more action once students are back in school.

“We can’t just talk about a bunch of pretty policies and put them up on the wall,” she said. “We need to make sure they are implemented and the culture of the school is that the kids know they can speak out when they need to speak out.”

Concord City Councilor Jennifer Kretovic – chairwoman of Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire and a parent of a former student – asked school officials to utilize the crisis center and other local resources as they continue their work.

“When you are reviewing these policies, please understand, our advocates are specially trained to receive reports of sexual violence. They know that victims of sexual assault can be wounded more by the act of reporting than the actual act of the assault,” she said. “Our students need more than just an assurance that the principal and building supervisor knows a policy to follow for mandatory reporting. Please call an advocate, reach out to us for help.”

Forsten said the district’s actions and their implementation of policies will remain a visible priority.

“There’s no way this is slipping in six months, that just isn’t going to happen. There’s no way,” she said. “This is going to stay at the forefront of our work, it is going to become who we are. We are going to have school community that is going to be safe for everybody. We are committed to that.”

On Monday before the meeting, Forsten and Patterson met with Goble’s family and apologized, Goble’s mother Kate Frey said Tuesday. The apology was part of a legal agreement between the district and Goble’s family finalized in June. The two officials met with Goble, her sister Charlotte and her parents for an hour and a half in the district’s office, Frey said.

“They gave Ana a written letter from the board apologizing to her and thanking her for her bravery,” Frey said.

Sica was originally supposed to be present for the apology as well, per the legal agreement but was not there because he was on leave. Frey said she does not want to see Sica return to Concord High under any circumstances.

“We were very open in saying that if current administration returns or if Tom Sica returns, we would not feel safe with our kids being under his care and I don’t feel like others in the community would either,” she said. “I don’t think he should be in any school.”

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