Petition to remove Concord superintendent garners more than 1,400 signatures 

  • Concord Superintendent of Schools Terri Forsten, left, and School Board Chair Jennifer Patterson listen to testimony at a recent board meeting at the Mill Brook School. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 8/25/2019 4:17:55 PM

An online petition asking Concord School Board members to remove Superintendent Terri Forsten and Concord High School principal Tom Sica from their positions had garnered more than 1,400 signatures by Sunday evening.

“There’s been a huge public outcry,” said Darlene Gildersleeve, one of the petition’s authors and a parent of two children with disabilities. “It really backs up that claim that it’s not a small group of parents who are concerned about this – it’s everyone.”

The petition, created Friday night by parents and members of child advocacy groups and published on Change.org, asks the Concord School Board to take a vote of “No Confidence” in Forsten at the Sept. 3 school board meeting at the district office. To remove the superintendent, two-thirds of the board would have to vote in favor, Gildersleeve said.

Sica is on paid administrative leave, and has been since June after a junior at Concord High came forward saying she was suspended by Sica in 2014 as a student at Rundlett Middle School after she told him she had concerns with the way Howie Leung, a special education teacher, treated female students.

Leung was arrested in April and charged with sexually assaulting a Concord student at a summer school program in Massachusetts where he was director. The district has contracted an independent attorney from Massachusetts to investigate its handling of reports made by students in 2014 and 2018 with concerns about Leung.

The investigation is expected to wrap up after Labor Day.

While many questions remain unanswered, Forsten and the school board have pointed to staff-wide training and the hiring of the investigator as an effort to review how the Leung case was handled and if mistakes were made.

“The allegations regarding Mr. Leung have caused concern on the part of families for the safety of their children and the Board understands this fact and is taking significant measures to ensure that all reports, whether involving staff or students, are responded to in a manner which puts student safety first,” school board members wrote in a letter to the community in June.

The Concord School Board held an emergency non-public meeting Sunday afternoon with legal counsel to discuss the petition. Concord School Board President Jen Patterson said the board would wait until the investigation was completed to take any kind of action.

“The Board is aware of the petition, is taking the situation very seriously, and is listening carefully to all input received from the public,” Patterson said Sunday. “There is an independent investigation underway that relates to many of the circumstances giving rise to the petition. When the Board receives the results of the investigation, we will determine what action is appropriate.”

Gildersleeve, who is from Hopkinton and does not have children in Concord schools, said public sentiment has been building for months that the district needs a change in leadership.

“A lot of our community members feel, in our guts, that she will not change,” Gildersleeve said of Forsten. “We need new leadership who are going to be accountable and who we can trust.”

A tipping point for community members came on Friday, when a letter Forsten wrote to staff about training on harassment and mandatory reporting that would occur before the start of the school year was anonymously sent to the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and the Concord Monitor. In the letter to staff, Forsten said that the media had portrayed the district negatively and unfairly in stories about the Leung case and asked staff to engage in more positive conversations about the district.

“The local newspaper and social media have offered a continual dribble of articles and posts that have presented singular perspectives and have negatively impacted some of the community’s viewpoint of our schools and work,” Forsten wrote.

The letter angered many parents, who felt the letter undermined the people who spoke up with changes they would like to see in the district’s approach to students who come forward about misconduct. One was Quentin Goble, the father of Ana Goble, the student who was suspended by Sica in December 2014 after she came forward with concerns about Leung.

Goble, who will be a senior at Concord High this year, was only a seventh-grader at Rundlett when she said the way Leung treated her female classmates made her uncomfortable. Sica told Goble’s family at the time she was being suspended for spreading gossip.

“These ‘singular perspectives’ were first-hand traumatic experiences of victims of sexual assault and harassment, students who had the courage to say something when they saw something only to be undermined, discredited, and in some cases punished (as was the case with our daughter Ana), and outraged community members who spoke out against an establishment that was supposed to keep kids safe,” Quentin Goble said. “The ‘negative impact to the community’s viewpoint’ was not caused by these perspectives but by an administration that from the very beginning has refused to take ownership and responsibility. Our community and our kids deserve so much more.”

Goble’s suspension and Forsten’s letter were two reasons for Forsten’s removal that petitioners listed on their Change.org page. Forsten was not the superintendent when Goble was suspended; she took over leadership of the district in July 2015. 

After Leung was arrested in April, Goble’s family reached out to the district with their lawyer.

When the Monitor asked Forsten in May whether a student had ever been suspended after reporting concerns about Leung, she said she had not heard anything about it.

Additionally, petitioners question why Forsten and Sica didn’t go to police when female students went to Concord High School administration after they said they saw Leung kissing an 18-year-old student in a car. Leung was allowed to remain at Concord High for 3 ½ months after that report, until he was arrested for assault.

The petition also mentions a federal lawsuit the district is facing from a former Concord High School student who says she was sexually assaulted by a classmate on a school bus in late 2017.

The girl, who was a junior at the time, says school administrators took months to investigate her report while she continued to cross paths with the boy who threatened her after she reported he groped her and sexually assaulted her on a school bus in Deerfield, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Concord.

The suit names Forsten, Sica and three assistant principals – Thomas Crumrine, Chali Davis and James Corkum – as defendants.

Gildersleeve said if the board refuses to vote on removing Forsten on Sept. 3, she and other community members will ask for her resignation. Gildersleeve is a member of a group called CSD Advocates for Change, which includes parents and members of advocacy organizations, which is leading the charge on the petition. CSD Advocates for Change has 65 members on Facebook.

When reached by email Sunday afternoon, Forsten said she had not seen the petition and could not comment. Patterson said in an email that she and Forsten would like to schedule a time to meet with the Monitor’s editorial board to “engage in a more robust discussion about District issues.”

The Concord School Board’s emergency meeting was held at 2 p.m Sunday. Board member Barb Higgins posted a video on Facebook live before the meeting Sunday asking for prayers, and at one point became emotional.

“We as a group are under a lot of scrutiny. I can’t come on here and speak as a board member with an opinion because I can share my opinions with them and hope that working together, we can come up with the right thing … We have nine really dedicated people and while I don’t always agree with everyone, no one joins the school board to win a popularity contest …. it’s a lot of hard work and a lot of soul-searching and it is not easy and we have had some amazing meetings over the past few months and come together on some pretty difficult issues,” Higgins said.

“Many things we’ve done that haven’t been shared would make all of this a lot better and so I’m hoping today, finally, we can just speak our truth,” she added. “That’s what I’ll be fighting for. I really will be in there pushing for us to be able to talk to you, the community.”




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