Editorial: School district owes the public some answers

  • Primo “Howie” Leung, 36, of Concord

Published: 6/16/2019 12:05:16 AM

We applaud the Concord School Board’s decision to submit to an independent investigation into the way the board and school district officials dealt with allegations that teacher Howie Leung engaged in inappropriate relationships with female students. Leung was subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated rape of a child.

So far, three teenage girls have figured in the Leung story: an unnamed girl who was sexually assaulted by Leung while a student at Rundlett Middle School and later in Massachusetts; an 18-year-old student Leung, then a Concord High teacher, was seen kissing in a parked car in 2018; and Ana Goble, a courageous Concord High student who, while at Rundlett in 2014, complained about Leung’s behavior. In response she was suspended by the school’s principal, Tom Sica, now the principal at Concord High.

As the board recognized in an open letter to the community, many questions remain unanswered. Here are some of them.

Are the district’s policies governing the handling of complaints of sexual harassment and abuse adequate?

Were those policies, including the agreement that police be notified immediately in some circumstances, followed? It appears not.

In the incident involving the 18-year-old, the school district decided to conduct an in-house investigation and allowed Leung to continue teaching for more than three months while it did so. The board and district apparently believed, and perhaps still do, that in-house staff, including colleagues of the accused, are competent to conduct investigations in matters as crucial to student safety as allegations of sexual abuse. Are those investigators trained?

Shouldn’t, as per a 2016 agreement between the district and city police, questioning be conducted by members of law enforcement who are experienced in eliciting truthful testimony in matters as traumatic as the sexual abuse of a minor?

On June 4, according to an agreement between Ana Goble and her parents and the school district, the district removed Goble’s 2014 suspension and agreed to pay $10,000 to Ana and $5,000 to cover her parents’ legal costs. The school district also agreed to a face-to-face apology. That strikes us as an admission of wrongdoing. Have similar settlements occurred in the past?

What, if any, kind of investigation of Leung’s conduct did Ana Goble’s 2014 report prompt? At the time, the school district was led by veteran superintendent Chris Rath. Did she know of Goble’s complaint?

Neither Sica nor current school district Superintendent Terri Forsten has explained why Goble was punished with a lengthy out-of-school and in-school suspension for spreading what Sica described at the time as “malicious and slanderous gossip.” As it turned out, that “gossip” touched on the truth, but the suspension itself was an extreme measure.

A 2016 report on school suspensions published by UNH’s Carsey Institute reported that “research shows that even a single disciplinary exclusion in ninth grade is associated with a threefold increase in the likelihood that the suspended student will leave school prior to graduation.”

Sica has some explaining to do.

School suspensions, other than for reasons of public safety, are usually counterproductive. What is the school district’s policy? What determines the length of a suspension?

Concord High School’s suspension policy, as listed on its website, says that a suspended student “is NOT permitted on school grounds, at neighboring stores, or with a 1,000-foot radius of school grounds.” What gives the school or district the right to ban students from non-school district property? The authority to do so does not appear in state law RSA:13 “Suspension and Expulsion of Pupils.”

Ana Goble and her parents, by coming forward, raised these questions and more. The school board has scheduled public meetings on July 8 and July 22 to discuss its policies but before then, it and the district should provide some answers.

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