Questions surround Concord School District’s handling of Leung allegations

  • Concord teacher Howie Leung stands in Newton District Court on Friday. A judge set his bail at 50,000 and ordered he have no contact with anyone under 16 years old. Eileen O'Grady

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    This booking photo released Thursday, April 4, 2019, by the Concord Police Department shows Primo "Howie" Leung, a high school teacher who has been arrested on a fugitive from justice charge in connection with sexual assault allegations involving a minor in Massachusetts. (Concord Police Department via AP)

Published: 5/11/2019 3:17:47 PM

Less than 24 hours after Concord High School officials were notified that special education teacher Primo “Howie” Leung had acted inappropriately with a female student, the district’s superintendent launched an internal investigation.

Superintendent Terri Forsten said recently the initial allegation was serious, but not serious enough to warrant a call to the police. That critical decision has led to questions of whether the district followed procedures it set up with Concord police and what role school officials should play in investigations of sexual misconduct.

Leung, 36, is now accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a Concord middle school student here and at a summer program in Massachusetts following police investigations in both states. The victim in the criminal case is no longer at Concord High and is not the student who was the subject of the initial complaint.

Based on an agreement between the district and the Concord Police Department, school officials are expected to report all instances of possible sexual misconduct to authorities. In this case, the school district never contacted the police, and Leung remained at Concord High School for 3½ months after the initial complaint.

Court documents say “Leung had been observed engaging in inappropriate behavior with a high school senior.” Several sources told the Monitor that Leung was seen by other students kissing a senior girl in a car in Concord. The district has only classified the incident as “inappropriate behavior” between Leung and an 18-year-old student.

Because the girl is of the age of consent and an adult, school officials said the investigation wasn’t clear-cut. District officials said their internal review raised concerns about a breach of the state’s code of ethics for education professionals and the school’s harassment policy but did not point clearly to any violation of New Hampshire law. Local police point to this uncertainty as the precise reason why any legal determination should be made with their input.

“Based on what I know now as a result of this investigation, I believe it would have been prudent for the school to have notified us earlier,” Concord police Chief Bradley Osgood said in an interview with the Monitor.

A formal agreement, signed by Forsten and Osgood in 2016, requires school officials to report all forms of sexual assault, including cases of harassment, to law enforcement.

“Due to the complex nature of the law and specialized interview techniques law enforcement should be brought in at the first report,” the policy says. “Sexual Harassment investigations can become sexual assault with one statement. Coordination between the school and law enforcement is required.”

At the conclusion of the district’s internal review, Forsten notified officials at the state’s Department of Education who then immediately sought police involvement. Once contacted about Leung, police opened a criminal probe that soon revealed a history of sexual misconduct by Leung in the district. He now stands accused of raping a former Concord student at the Fessenden School’s summer program in 2015 and 2016.

Court documents say the abuse began when she was a student at Rundlett Middle School where Leung worked at the time.

Concord police are continuing to investigate incidents in New Hampshire and believe there could be other victims. Due to the ongoing investigation, police would not release any documents related to the case.

Forsten said she is unaware of any past complaints of inappropriate behavior or sexual misconduct against Leung while he was working at Rundlett. She said no additional victims have come forward to the school district since Leung’s arrest. Police said they are still interviewing witnesses and following leads to identify any other victims.

While New Hampshire law provides certain protections for minors under the age of consent, it does not explicitly address how someone in a position of authority, like a teacher, could abuse that power to coerce a student who is 18 years of age or older.

However, the Concord School District’s sexual harassment policy says one factor to be considered in an investigation is whether the harasser is in a position of power over the student subjected to that abuse. Additionally, the Department of Education’s code of ethics states that unprofessional conduct includes “soliciting or encouraging participation in a romantic or sexual relationship” until 10 months after a student graduates.

In an interview last week, Forsten declined to say how the district’s policies were applied in Leung’s case, including who led the investigation, how long it took to complete and if the district imposed any disciplinary actions. A basic timeline of events has emerged through police and court records, which reveals Leung remained on the job for 3½ months while first the district, then police investigated. The initial report of inappropriate behavior with a student was made Dec. 10 and Leung remained at Concord High until March 27, when he was informed of the criminal investigation.

Forsten confirmed that prior to his arrest on April 3, Leung was removed as the adviser of the Save Our Cold Kids (SOCK) club, a student organization that volunteers to help homeless children and their families in the local community. At the time, the school provided little detail as to why, saying only that it was for “personal reasons.”

Forsten would not say whether Leung was permitted to be alone with students during the school day while he was under investigation.

“I can’t answer that,” she said, citing the police’s ongoing investigation.

Leung has worked for the district for almost 13 years. He is now incarcerated in Massachusetts where a judge ordered bail set at $50,000 cash on charges of two counts of aggravated rape of a child, one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child over 14.

The victim, who is now 17, reported being inappropriately touched by Leung on several occasions at Rundlett, both on school property and in his vehicle when he gave her rides home, according to court documents. She also said that he assaulted her approximately 20 times at the Fessenden School where she was an unpaid helper for the overnight English Language Learning summer program.

Leung remains the subject of several other pending investigations in New Hampshire. Massachusetts prosecutors revealed in court last month that Leung gave $25,000 in cash to a high school senior, telling her that cash was more difficult to trace and urging her to hide it somewhere in her bedroom. Police are looking into whether Leung forged his wife’s name on a check to obtain money from the estate of her late father, who passed away in February. Leung’s wife was granted a restraining order against him.

He is next scheduled to appear May 15 in Newton District Court. Leung remains on paid administrative leave as an employee of the Concord School District. In 2018, he made $78,266.

A spokesman for the state education department said the agency’s investigation into Leung remains open and that, as a result, he could not provide any information about the status of Leung’s teaching certification in New Hampshire.

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