Concord School District to hire new Title IX coordinator

Monitor staff
Published: 12/14/2019 9:22:12 PM

The Concord School District will hire a new Title IX coordinator and compliance officer early next year, one of a few structural changes in the district since the arrest of a former teacher accused of raping a student.

The position will oversee the school’s response to reports of gender discrimination, including accusations of sexual misconduct. He or she is expected to identify and address any patterns and systematic problems revealed by those complaints, and provide training to staff and students.

The Title IX coordinator/compliance officer should also stay in close contact with local resources like the Concord Police Department and the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, Interim Superintendent Frank Bass said.

“We feel like this is one of the linchpins going forward,” Bass said at a school board meeting on Dec. 9.

Title IX is a federal civil rights law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of sex.

Concord’s current Title IX coordinator, Bob Belmont, has had little involvement in the district’s handling of complaints against former teacher Howie Leung, who is accused of raping a former Concord student, records show.

Belmont, whose official title is director of student services, has not been present at school board meetings in recent months as the district community has discussed how to move forward after Leung’s arrest. District administrators said over the summer that Belmont was attending training in Title IX.

Bass told the Monitor on Thursday that the district is looking to create a new position for Title IX coordinator because the responsibility is a deeper commitment than just an add-on to an already full-time job.

“You can’t just make it a tagalong to a position like director of special education or student services,” he said. “We really need to have a separate Title IX coordinator compliance officer, so they can spend the bulk of their time providing training when necessary. It’s a full-time job.”

Belmont did not respond to requests for an interview about his position before the district announced it would hire a new Title IX coordinator. The Monitor is scheduled to sit down with him and Bass on Monday to talk about Title IX. Belmont was paid $123,758 in 2018, records show.

By law, school districts that receive federal Title IX funding – most districts in the state – are required to have a Title IX coordinator, but districts treat the position and job descriptions differently. There are no mandated regulations on how a Title IX coordinator should operate within a district, although the Office of Civil Rights has released recommendations over the years.

Bass said he hopes to hire the new coordinator as early as late January. Filling the position is a priority for the district, given the recommendations the district received from independent investigator Djuna Perkins.

Perkins, a former prosecutor and chief of the Boston District Attorney’s Domestic Violence Unit, was hired by the district over the summer to investigate administrators’ handling of sexual misconduct reports brought to them by students.

One incident involved a student in 2014 who said the way Leung treated her female classmates made her feel uncomfortable. She was suspended by then-Rundlett Middle School principal Tom Sica for spreading “malicious and slanderous gossip.”

Sica, who was principal of Concord High School last year, stepped down after Perkins completed a confidential report into that incident and other reports made by students about Leung last December. The school board voted to terminate his contract less than a week after reading the report.

In her public recommendations, Perkins did not mention Sica or the student who was suspended.

She did say that in general, principals and superintendents are not a good choice for a person to investigate possible Title IX complaints because of the inherent conflict of interest in their jobs as disciplinarians.

Perkins recommended that a Title IX coordinator – who should have extensive training on trauma-informed investigations – be in charge of overseeing the reporting and investigation process. After an investigation is complete, the Title IX coordinator will hand his or her findings over to principals to discipline the student or employee. That way, there is no risk of bias in the process.

Another benefit of having a Title IX coordinator who is in charge of taking down all reports of misconduct or boundary violations is that individual will develop institutional knowledge of misconduct related to a particular student or staff member, Perkins wrote.

In the case of Leung, he often allowed a select group of students to eat lunch in his classroom, he gave students gifts, posted photos of students on social media, wrote personal letters to them and drove them in his car.

Perkins wrote in her recommendations that more people in the district community will report boundary violations if the district has an active Title IX coordinator on staff, especially if other staff members are trained in warning signs for grooming behavior.

“Since the Title IX coordinator does not have disciplinary authority, peers could report concerns about non-sexual boundary violations to the Title IX coordinator without fear of unfairly jeopardizing a college’s career, but confident that someone with the necessary expertise and authority is aware of the issue and can respond appropriately,” she wrote.

Bass said the district’s business administration office is creating a presentation on the cost of hiring a Title IX coordinator.

Perkins’s public report does not specifically recommend that the school district create a new position for its Title IX coordinator. Bass said that’s how he interpreted her recommendations, given how big of a responsibility investigating reports and training staff would be.

Bass said Concord wants to become a leader on these issues. The district will be hosting a conference this summer on Title IX compliance for ATIXA, the Association of Title IX Administrators.

Adding a Title IX coordinator to district staff is just one change the district is making to promote student safety, Bass said. During a Dec. 9 school board meeting, he also proposed adding a director of guidance position to the staff.

“This is a time when kids need a lot of guidance and support – it’s not just about college applications,” Bass said. “This is about day-to-day issues that kids have to wrestle with. We want our guidance counselors to have the time and the flexibility to deal with these issues.”

Bass said this position would likely be filled by one of the current guidance counselors on the district. The district would cut that counselor’s case load in half, and hire another guidance counselor, Bass said.

Other changes Bass discussed at the school board meeting were upgrading the district’s behavioral programs and increasing the number of educational assistants in kindergarten classrooms.

At Concord High, Interim Principal Michael Reardon said he is putting together a faculty committee to take a look at changing the school’s master schedule.

“There’s been a lot of work on the master schedule at Concord High School, over the last five years, over the last eight years, but no one has followed through on actually putting a model in place… I think we have too many kids with unscheduled time. I think that the current eight-period day is a little difficult for some of our kids to deal with that number of subjects, and I think there are just better ways of utilizing this very important resource of time,” he said.

That committee will research possibilities and present those options to staff next January, Reardon said. Then, the faculty can vote on which schedule they like best.

Reardon said he’s also taking a look at Concord High School’s current security features and seeing if there are any areas that could be improved.

He said he’s also asked the faculty to consider a daily advisory for Concord High. In this system, a group of 12 to 15 students in every grade would have the same adviser for four years, something he called “an invaluable resource” for students.




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