Concord superintendent said fired teacher had letter of recommendation from SNHU department head

  • CHS teacher Joshua Harwood was arrested Thursday on several charges, including prostitution involving a minor and possession of child sexual abuse images. Concord Police Department

Monitor staff
Published: 2/9/2021 2:05:06 PM

Concord School District officials say they saw “no red flags” in former business teacher Joshua Harwood’s references during the timeline of his hiring process, which was released in greater detail this week.

At a school board meeting Monday evening, interim Superintendent Kathleen Murphy said Harwood’s file contains six to seven letters of recommendation, including one from a Southern New Hampshire University department head. She also said three reference checks were made via phone call, including one to a Southern New Hampshire University professor.

Murphy’s assertion called into question a statement from Southern New Hampshire University that said no “administrative official” provided Harwood with a reference or recommendation after he was fired in 2019.

A school spokeswoman said that a department chair “would not be considered a university official as they have no supervisory oversight, and therefore would not be privy to the details of a colleague’s termination,” Associate Vice President of Communications Lauren Keane said Tuesday.

Murphy said Concord followed its usual protocols and missed no steps when hiring Harwood, who was arrested Feb. 4 on charges that include soliciting sexual activity from a minor in exchange for money, and obtaining images depicting child sexual abuse.

“I reviewed the personnel file, I reviewed any documentation that we had and feel that the district took the appropriate steps relative to his hiring here in the district,” Murphy said.

Harwood worked at SNHU from January 2016 to April 2019, when he was terminated. The prosecutor in the criminal case against Harwood said he was fired from SNHU after an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving a university student.

In addition to SNHU and Concord High School, Harwood was employed by Farmington High School. Murphy said she has been in contact with the Farmington principal, who was unaware of Harwood’s history of sexual misconduct.

According to the timeline Murphy presented, Harwood had his first interview with two Concord High School administrators and five teachers on April 20, 2020. From April 20-27, Harwood’s references were checked, including through phone calls and verifying the letters of recommendation.

On April 30, Harwood had an interview with Frank Bass, who was the interim superintendent at the time. On May 4, the human resources department nominated him to be hired and he was approved by the Concord School Board.

On May 14, the human resources office processed Harwood’s criminal background check through the state police and the FBI. Because fingerprinting wasn’t available at the time due to COVID-19, Harwood submitted his fingerprints later, on Aug. 7. Harwood had no criminal record.

On May 19, Harwood was interviewed by district central office administrators about his certification. Harwood was obtaining his New Hampshire teacher certification through an alternate system set up to attract teachers in critical shortage teaching subjects. Murphy said he completed his certification plan and received full credentials from the Department of Education.

On May 22, a Concord administrator verified Harwood’s certification. On June 2, another administrator signed off on his credentials. On June 3, he had another interview with central office administrators about his certification.

“It’s very clear and all the steps were taken and executed by the staff in order to do that, and there were no red flags,” Murphy said.

It is unclear whether those who provided references for Harwood knew about the sexual misconduct allegations that were reported at Southern New Hampshire University. At SNHU and other schools, the reasons for termination are considered personnel matters, and are kept private. SNHU said the reason for Harwood’s termination did not involve a criminal offense, which would have required the university to notify police. The university was not obligated to notify the Department of Education since educators in higher education are not certified by the state.

SNHU maintained that its human resources department was not contacted by Concord officials about Harwood.

“SNHU reviewed all university records and can confirm that no formal request for a reference or employment verification was made through our Human Resources department, which would have been documented in our formal reference check system,” Keane said. “If an SNHU official was contacted or employment dates were verified they would have been informed that he was terminated mid-semester, and SNHU would not have recommended that he teach in any capacity, as we have done with previous requests related to Mr. Harwood.”

Murphy said that if Southern New Hampshire University believed Harwood should not teach, that message “got nowhere.”

“We have great relationships with our public school brothers and sisters. There is not a superintendent that doesn’t call each other,” Murphy said. “The only place where I think we need to look at it – from a much larger perspective than just Concord – is how do we make sure that we understand what happens in private places when it comes to hiring people in public schools?”

Harwood started teaching in the district on Aug. 26.

On Dec. 16, the victim, a former Concord High School student, reported Harwood to an assistant principal at Concord High School. Harwood was placed on paid administrative leave while the district conducted its own investigation alongside the police’s criminal investigation. He was ultimately fired by the school district.

Harwood is charged with soliciting sex from a child under the age of 18, two counts of prostitution and solicitation to commit sexual contact, endangering the welfare of a child, possession of child sexual abuse images and two counts of manufacture of child sexual abuse images. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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