What's Next For Concord As Former Teacher Awaits Trial For Sexual Assault?
A report released this week by the Concord School Board confirmed that top school district officials failed to thoroughly investigate and report sexual misconduct complaints against former teacher Howie Leung.
Leung is awaiting trial on charges of sexually assaulting a former Concord student while she was in middle school.
The 155-page, independent report shows a full decade of student and staff complaints about Leung’s behavior, but it says few steps were ever taken to address it by school administrators.
The New Hampshire Attorney General’s office is conducting a comprehensive review of whether the school district followed all state laws, rules and regulations designed to keep children safe.
NHPR’s Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Jennifer Patterson, the president of the Concord School Board, about the report and how the board is working to move forward.
Rick Ganley: This report released Monday shows top administrators failed to thoroughly investigate sexual misconduct complaints against Howie Leung. What would be the proper procedure for reporting these complaints? What should have been done differently?
Jennifer Patterson: So I think that's a complicated question, and that was part of what the report was authorized to look at. I think as board members, we really needed to understand what had happened and to have an investigator who looked at both what the standards were and then what actually occurred. That was a very comprehensive process, and it was something that was very difficult for us to read when we received the full report last September.
Rick Ganley: What should have been done differently?
Jennifer Patterson: Again, there was a report that was separate that was released by investigator [Djuna] Perkins that really focuses on the steps to, you know, for the community to take next. And I think what she talked about was getting the systems in place to make sure that, you know, the district listened to student and staff voices, that we had a Title IX coordinator in place, that we had reporting avenues, that we trained the staff to make sure that they understood what's the right thing to do was and and how to do it. So those are all things that we have been focusing on as a district.
I think the other area of focus has been getting strong leadership in place. And we're very grateful to Dr. Frank Bass and Kathleen Murphy, who are our interim superintendents. Frank ended his tenure on June 30th, and we now have Kathleen stepping in. One of the things that we did as a board was to make sure that we created a new position whose responsibility would be to make sure that staff were fully trained so that they really understood from a nitty gritty level, not just there's a policy on a piece of paper, but what do I do in this particular scenario?
Rick Ganley: So do you feel that the changes that the board has implemented are going to prevent this kind of thing from happening the future? You feel confident that you can say that?
Jennifer Patterson: It's certainly incredibly important. I mean, that report is very painful. It's very difficult to read. You know, I think the board and the district are committed to making sure that we get the systems in place to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. The board's focus is on the adoption of policies, but making sure that that's a policy that actually creates a culture that supports the ability of staff and supports the ability of students to know what they should be doing and to ask the right questions and to follow up. And so that is a much more detailed type of training. It's not a 'oh, here's an hour of training.' It involves scenarios and conversations and questions and answers.
And so I think one of the key steps that the board took was to create a position which is not only that Title IX coordinator, but also so this is a person who knows the law, who knows what the requirements are, but who's also present in the schools, who is doing training, talking to the administrators, staff and students so we can really live and breathe a culture of accountability, of listening, of understanding what is the right thing to do under these circumstances. So we've made progress. It's going to be a long process. It's going to be a difficult process to get to healing within the community. I think we're committed to having these conversations, to listening to everyone and just making sure that we've done the follow up, that we're truly creating that that change, which is challenging.
Rick Ganley: You talk about accountability. Does the board plan to be more transparent about these incidents of misconduct moving forward when you've got a case that's in process? Can you be more open about it?
Jennifer Patterson: Well, I think we've been very transparent as a board about the board functionalities. I think one of the things that's difficult for the community to understand is that it's the superintendent who supervises all of the staff. The board supervises the superintendent. And so I think we have done everything we can to be public in the ways that we are able to be public. But that's why it's so key for us to have that strong leadership there so that we can ask our board members at our meetings and have our superintendent say, here's what we're doing and here are the steps that we've taken.
Because from a personnel perspective, the board is basically the jury if there is a personnel action that's taken by the superintendent. So we as board members cannot be directly involved with that, nor is it something that we can be transparent about. But we absolutely can be transparent about the systems that are put in place, about what we are looking for in terms of leadership for the school district [and] who we're putting in place. And all of that is incredibly important. And we have tried very hard to be transparent about that and to involve community input.
Rick Ganley: This case inspired legislation recently outlawing relations between a teacher and student, regardless of age. What can other districts learn from Concord's experience?
Jennifer Patterson: I mean, one of the things that investigator [Djuna] Perkins said in her recommendations to the district is understand that this can happen anywhere. And I think that that is important for districts to understand. And I think that the very difficult and painful process that we go through in Concord to put those systems in place. I really hope that it's instructive for other districts as well. And, you know, if this just terrible situation can lead to better results anyplace, not only in Concord, I think that would be great.