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Concord Interim Superintendent Talks Changes To Improve Student Safety

Via Concord High School website

The Concord School District has new policies and procedures for student safety. This follows criticism from parents and advocates about how the district handled allegations of sexual misconduct against a former teacher.

Special education teacher Howie “Primo” Leung was arrested in April on charges of sexual assault and faces a trial next year.

Concord schools superintendent and the principal of Concord High resigned last month, and the school board named Interim Superintendent Frank Bass to manage the district as it moves forward.  NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Bass about changes the district is making to improve student safety.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Now that you're more established in your position, you've been there for a few weeks, what do you feel needs to happen for the district to move forward?

We have to get over the inertia. We understand what took place. It's a terrible situation. There's been some catharsis, people talking about it. We did a survey at the high school. It was very, very helpful. Folks got a chance to talk about the issues that were concerning them. Mike Reardon, the interim principal, and I, along with the assistant principals, will be addressing those issues with the faculty and talking about how do we move forward from here.

Now, more specifically, however, the issue is what are we going to do to protect us from things like that happening in the future? So you may have heard that we're putting a whole series of things into play. First and foremost, is having a compliance officer who also serves as the Title IX coordinator, someone who can handle these kinds of concerns and allegations.

When you say compliance, what specifically would they be doing?

So, like a Title IX coordinator, [they'd have] the ability to understand aggressions and behaviors between individuals that obviously are of a very contentious nature. I'm being specific about the words I choose here.

In other words, spot that behavior before it becomes a chronic problem?

Two things. Spot the behavior before it becomes a chronic problem, [and] put into place procedures, protocols, especially in the air of communication, about how things are to be reported so that nothing gets left for chance, [and] to provide training for staff.

One of the strongest criticisms against the district involved how former principal Tom Sica handled student allegations against Leung. While serving as principal at Rundlett Middle School, he suspended a student who brought forth concerns, saying she was spreading rumors. How do these changes specifically ensure that students' concerns like that are taken more seriously?

So, I mean, one of the things that we're looking at is, again, as I said earlier, is the whole issue of communication protocols. And this is what I brought up at the last school board meeting -- to make sure that we understand any issue that comes up, where it goes and how it's handled.

So an issue may come up. Student goes to the guidance counselor. Student goes to maybe their case manager. Student goes to a fellow teacher that they feel very comfortable with. But eventually, that communication protocol has to end up at the principal's office. We want to make sure that occurs. So the principal, he or she, has an awareness of what has taken place.

But of course, that's what did happen in this case, and the principal –

I can't speak to the past. I can only speak to what we're going to do in the future to make sure that we have the proper protocols and communication vehicles in place such that the issue, whatever is being brought forward, is examined and looked upon as a credible issue. And then we have to do the follow up to find out where it goes from there. Maybe sometimes those issues aren't relevant, but we can't take the chance on that. So we have to follow through on all of those concerns or allegations that are brought forward.

Moreover, I think another point that we haven't talked about yet is the anonymous opportunities. [For] kids to be able to contact the compliance officer, or what we have right now are drop box[es] and tip boxes and other ways for students to let us know when things seemed to be awry, and that we're able to respond. That's anonymous. And that gives them that extra comfort. Because maybe you as an individual don't feel comfortable going to your guidance counselor, or your case manager or your principal. This gives them another opportunity to make that concern known to folks that they need to have something done.

And are students using those?

Yes, they are. Yes, we've already experienced that, yes. And it's been very helpful.

The Concord School Board will not be releasing the results of an investigation to how allegations against Leung were handled. But parents still say they have some unanswered questions about what happened. I mean, there's talk here of a lack of transparency. I know you've heard this. Does the district have plans to release any more information in the future?

No, not at this time.

And the reasoning is?

There are many legal considerations that are in play and that really ties our hands in terms of being able to release any information at this point in time.

But can you rebuild a sense of trust with parents if more information isn't released?

I don't see why not. It really comes down to an issue of what do you have in place now? How can you be sure that what you put into place is going to help us in the future for something like this if it were ever to occur again? And that's my job is really to inform the public, and to inform our school board and to get all of our staff and faculty involved in setting up these various ways and means by which information gets ferried to the right person so we don't have an issue like this occurring again.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.

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