Policy changes in Concord School District to address teachers’ use of social media, relationships with students 

  • Howie Leung Lisa Redmond

Monitor staff
Published: 8/4/2019 9:00:29 PM

Teachers should never be alone with a student in a room with a door locked or with the lights off. It’s inappropriate for teachers and students to exchange gifts. Educators are strongly discouraged from contacting students through social media. Dating between staff members and students is strictly prohibited.

These regulations are part of a model policy developed by the New Hampshire School Board Association to guide teachers’ social interactions with students inside and outside of school. The policy is meant to keep students safe and ensure that relationships between educators and students do not cross any lines, Concord School Board President Jennifer Patterson said.

The Concord School Board’s Communications and Policy Committee will be considering adopting that policy along with other updates to policies dealing with sexual misconduct and harassment in the coming months. The next school board meeting is Monday night at Mill Brook School at 7 p.m. Parents are expected to be wearing royal blue to show their unified concern for student safety.

The school board has asked the community to help revamp its policies for dealing with complaints, harassment and sexual misconduct in the aftermath of special education teacher Howie Leung’s arrest.

“If this had been in place, it would have been really helpful, frankly, during this situation,” Patterson said at the school board’s Communications and Policy Committee meeting on July 22, speaking about the model policy and the Leung case. “I don’t  know why we don’t have it now.”

Leung, a special education teacher in the Concord School District, is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a former Concord student during the summers of 2015 and 2016 at the Fessenden Summer ELL Program in Newton, Mass., when the student was 13 and 14 years old. He was arrested in April and was moved to Massachusetts to face the most serious charges in that state.

The community has voiced concern that the school board did not follow its own policies in handling complaints brought forward about Leung. One Rundlett Middle School student was suspended in 2014 for expressing concern about Leung’s conduct with her female classmates.

An art teacher and guidance counselor, in their roles as union representatives, tried to disprove three students who said they saw Leung kiss a classmate in a car in December.

Members of the community speaking at school board meetings said before Leung’s arrest there were red flags that showed Leung would cross lines with students. If a policy like the one recommended by the New Hampshire School Board Association was in place, administrators could have acted sooner and it could have prevented students from getting hurt.

Leung had close relationships with several female students he taught, he would meet with them with the door closed and bring them coffees or buy them lunch, parents said. He posted photos of students on his private social media pages.

“That’s where the grooming starts. Howie did a lot of that,” said parent Dan Keller, about teachers interacting with students on social media. “I don’t think it’s ever appropriate for a student and a teacher to be friends on Facebook.”

Patterson said social media can be tough to monitor when some teachers use social media for instructional purposes. A remedy to that might be to say that teachers are not allowed to interact with students using their own personal accounts or to discuss non-school related issues with students on social media, she said.

“We can tweak it to make it stronger if there’s a feeling that we need to,” Patterson said, of the recommended policy.

Other regulations that the “GBEBB – Employee-Student Relations” policy recommends is that staff members not send students on personal errands, that staff members make no attempt to attempt to counsel, assess, diagnose or a treat a student’s personal problems related to sexual behavior, substance use or mental or physical health.

Patterson said the policy the school board has in place now on staff and student relations is more generalized. The policy, “431 – Professional Expectations” says that teachers should “exhibit professional conduct both on and off duty,” but does not specify specific behaviors.

“We had a statute that was very, very general in terms of bad action, but it didn’t lay out exactly what that was. There was not enough specificity to ensure consistency,” Patterson said.

Patterson is recommending that GBEBB be adopted. Several other school districts in New Hampshire, including Goffstown, already have the policy in place.

Other changes that subcommittees recommended was melding the student and employee harassment policy into one, and making the crisis center number available on the policy and reporting forms.

Concord School District superintendent Terri Forsten said she’s heard community members say they want to see more pathways for students to report potential misconduct. Options the district are looking at are using an online reporting form, reporting in person and a text line or anonymous box on school’s campuses.

“Developing multiple pathways for students to come forward, I think, is important,” Forsten said.

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