Education Commissioner, community members express concern about integrity of Concord schools investigation 

Monitor staff
Published: 10/28/2019 3:24:32 PM

State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut expressed concern and disappointment Monday that Concord High School Principal Tom Sica continued to work despite the community being told he was on a leave of absence during an investigation into his handling of student sexual misconduct complaints.

“Allowing Principal Sica to work during an internal investigation of his conduct potentially undermines the integrity of that investigation,” Edelblut said. “We certainly hope that the investigator was aware of Mr. Sica’s continued involvement while out on leave and expect all school districts to be honest and transparent with their communities.”

“We are deeply disappointed that the Concord School District led the department and the public to believe that Principal Sica was actually on leave and not involved in the operations of the high school when records show that he remained active in school business,” he continued.

Other members of the community have echoed similar concerns about the integrity of investigation following the news that Sica – who was absent from graduation on June 15 and went on a “voluntary leave of absence” June 24 – continued working on school business for three months remotely while the investigator met with students and staff members.

The Monitor learned that Sica continued to work throughout the summer in off-site locations after obtaining 331 pages of emails from his district account through a right-to-know request.

He only stopped working when he was placed on paid administrative leave by the school board on Sept. 27, a few days after they received the investigation completed by independent attorney Djuna Perkins.

Sica’s absence from the public eye followed a story published by the Monitor about Sica’s suspension of student Ana Goble after she told friends at Rundlett she felt former Concord teacher Howie Leung’s behavior with female students made her uncomfortable.

Goble, who was in seventh-grade at the time in 2014, was called into Sica’s office the day before Christmas break, accused of spreading “malicious and slanderous gossip” and suspended for three days.

Leung was arrested in April. He is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a Rundlett student starting in the 2014-15 school year, around the time Goble was suspended and silenced.

Concord At-Large City Councilor and director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence Amanda Grady Sexton said that under no circumstances should a school employee who is being investigated and who has been placed on leave continue to work during that time.

“It’s critical that the School District create an environment where students and staff are eager to come forward to report concerns and abuse,” she said. “Allowing this employee to work while on leave discouraged reporting and may have prejudiced the investigation. Allowing administrators to send out emails stating their allegiance to a person who is being investigated only serves to silence those who have critical information to share.”

Emails obtained by the Monitor revealed that in a letter to district leaders dated June 29, Assistant Principal Steve Rothenberg urged school leaders, including other assistant principals, to reach out to Sica “without reservation” while he was on leave.

“What does a LOA (leave of absence) look like for Tom?” Rothenberg wrote. “The details of it have not been announced publicly by the SAU, but I want to let you know that he is still working.”

“Tom is in a very complicated situation,” Rothenberg concluded. “The district administrators are in 100% support of him – and his quality decision-making methods. The current news is sourced from one side at this time and therefore we are very much in support of the district contracting with the outside independent investigator to sort through this.”

Rothenberg told the Monitor on Friday that he sent his email to staff to “let them know what was going on, and ultimately to help guide them to do their jobs effectively.” He did not answer if he thought the public was misled.

Meanwhile, community concern continues to grow.

“I’m hearing from concerned parents and community members every day who have lost faith in the leadership of the Concord School District,” Grady Sexton said. “Many tell me that they are afraid to send their kids to school, and believe that it’s time to change the City Charter so that the City Council can have basic oversight over the schools.”

Max Schultz, a candidate for school board in District B, wrote on his Facebook page, that it was disingenuous by the Concord School District administration to say that Sica was on leave.

“People will now question the investigation’s integrity,” he said.

Dan Habib, a Concord parent whose son was a student of Leung’s, said he had been attending the policy committee meetings and the school board meetings throughout the last few months and had no idea that Sica continued to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the high school over the summer and into September.

“Sica’s continued involvement in CHS administration didn’t just deceive the community,” he said. “From my point of view it also compromises the investigation. How could staff feel free and comfortable speaking up honestly during the investigation if Sica was still communicating with staff regularly, and an assistant principal was saying in emails ‘The district administrators are in 100% support of him – and his quality decision-making methods.’ None of this promotes a culture of honesty and transparency.”

Attorney Steve Bennett, who worked as a liaison between the board and Perkins, said he and Perkins were aware Sica was work ing in some capacity during the investigation, but  not on the high school campus. He said steps were taken to avoid any interference with the investigation. 

“Attorney Perkins scheduled all interviews through a SAU staff member who was not (and had not been) under the supervision of Mr. Sica,” Bennett said. In addition, witness interviews did not take place at the high school, he said.

“Neither Attorney Perkins nor I are aware of any attempt by Mr. Sica to influence the statements of any witnesses,” Bennett said. “No witness expressed an unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation because of a concern about repercussions from Mr. Sica or other administrators.”

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