Concord School District Releases Leung Sexual Misconduct Report | #teacher | #children | #kids

CONCORD, NH — After a 15-month battle with its school board, school district, and a superior court lawsuit, the Concord community can finally view at least one investigator’s view of how and why a high school teacher accused of inappropriate behavior with middle and high school students managed to stay employed for many years — until he was arrested on rape charges in Massachusetts in 2019.

SAU 8, the Concord School District, posted a copy of the confidential 2019 report of the case against Primo “Howie” Leung, a special education teacher with the district for 12 years, by investigator Djuna Perkins, an attorney and former prosecutor from Massachusetts, on its website Monday. The heavily redacted 115-page document features color-coded redaction notes identifying why certain information was kept from public view — from information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, confidential information about a crime against a juvenile, personnel file information “which, after applying the balance test, remains exempt from disclosure,” attorney-client privilege information, confidential witnesses, and invasion of privacy issues. Another report, an interview with Ed Kaplan, the district former attorney, was completely redacted.

The investigation features a timeline of information about and accusations against Leung beginning primarily in 2014 while he was a teacher at Rundlett Middle School — although there were allegations of the teacher “behaving too casually with students” and receiving counseling by an assistant principal between 2006 and 2014 at the middle school.

More extensively, the investigation dives into a few pivotal allegations against Leung: Favoritism with students in the fall 2014 at RMS and later at Concord High School; an accusation brought against him by another student in December 2014 that led to that student being suspended for gossiping; and sexual relationships and other inappropriate activities with at least two students, possibly more, between 2015 and 2018 — until Leung was accused of kissing and hugging a student inside a car at the intersection of East Side Drive and Interstate 393 on December 2018, by other students.

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The report was posted on the district’s website at 12:50 p.m. Monday, without any announcement to the media or notification to entities, including Patch, that made records requests for the documentation. When the requests were rejected, an eight-month fight ensued to have the report released to the public.

During the investigation, 56 witnesses were interviewed including 37 staffers, 11 students, six parents, and two staffers from the New Hampshire Department of Education. Students often appeared with parents while teachers appeared with union representatives, Perkins said. Tom Sica, the former Rundlett and Concord high school principal who was terminated last year, appeared with his attorney (in June, Sica surrendered his state educator credentials rather than fight a potential state education investigation due to the Leung case).

Seven students did not respond to or declined to be interviewed. Perkins “relayed concerns” about two students to Concord police adding there could be a third or fourth victim — something police have speculated since the beginning of the case.

Only Leung, Terri Forsten, the former school superintendent who was also fired last year a few days after school board members read Perkins’ report, Sica, Bob Belmont, the Title IX director, and Donna Palley, the district’s assistant superintendent, were identified. Perkins informed witnesses they would “not be included in the report” and “should not be subject to retaliation for participating in the investigation.”

While some staffers and witnesses can be determined due to past reporting, the lack of specific information leaves huge gaps in the report, investigation, and transparency of many of the events that took place during Leung’s teaching career in Concord. Perkins readily admitted that the investigation “was significantly limited,” mostly due to her inability to speak to two witnesses whose names were redacted and who did not agree to be interviewed. While eyeing “hundreds of documents,” she also did not have access to police reports, witness interviews by police, grand jury materials, evidence gathered by police that was not in the possession of the school district.

Perkins said the school district was probably caught flatfooted by the case because it appeared to have never provided training to staff or students about identifying, responding to, or reporting sexual misconduct or concerns about boundaries under the district’s leadership with Forsten, the district’s superintendent for about four years, or Chris Rath, who led SAU 8 for 15 years before Forsten. The district also never provided training to administrators who conducted investigations like the one put together in the Leung case, Perkins said. She noted there were six other misconduct investigations while Forsten was superintendent — including student-student, staff-staff, and at least one student-staff touching incident. Rath said there were eight or nine complaints during her tenure that she investigated personally.

None of these incidents were developed in the report because that was not the charge of the investigation.

Leung’s Time At SAU 8

Leung, the report noted, was originally hired in 2006 with two current staffers at the time recommending his employment enthusiastically.

While he was not certified as specially education teacher, he was allowed to work in that area due to the state’s shortage of teachers with the certification.

Perkins noted he began hosting a summer program for English Language Learners at the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts in 1998 — the location where he was later accused of rape and assault of a Concord student six and seven years ago, when the student was a minor.

Staffers called Leung ambitious but others reported that “he could be arrogant” and was “very casual” with students. A review of district emails showed him to be “a master networker” who assisted people outside the district with services, played sports, and also was involved in a poker game with other “movers and shakers” of Concord. He was also involved in many programs at the school.

When Sica became principal at Rundlett, he appointed Leung to the leadership team due to his active participation in student life. He also became an advisor for a student club.

Leung’s personnel file revealed no issues between 2006-2008 or 2010, the report said — while not diving into anything for 2009. Sica nominated Leung for the district’s distinguished educator award every year he worked at the schools. Perkins said it appeared Leung was “a favorite” of Sica’s. Leung won the award in 2012 — a year after a Truna Halverson, a Concord parent at the time, made an accusation that Leung was attempted to groom her daughter. Halverson claimed Sica did not take her concerns seriously about Leung. She was also never interviewed by Perkins — although Halverson did speak with Concord police briefly about her experience with Leung.

Between 2013 and 2014, Perkins said, a potential incident where Leung appeared to become “the primary advisor” of a student club, with a potentially uncomfortable relationship Leung was involved in. However, a co-advisor declined to be interviewed about activities with the club and a review of emails showed no inappropriate interaction.

Perkins’ investigation delved into “lax” issues in Leung’s classroom — including mostly girls hanging out with him, “perqs” that made one complainant feel “bad for other kids” who didn’t get them, and other issues like “side hugs” between him and students, and extensive interactivity with girls including in his car, eating donuts and Chinese food, and other issues. One student, a staffer noted, “frequently came late to her class,” with Leung “apologizing that they were late and saying that he had bought them lunch.”

Leung, staffers and students said, had ingratiated himself into everything going on at the school.

An investigation into emails found that a relationship between Leung and a student “had begun to change” in September 2014. During many weeks, Leung would give the student money for food and other students noticed they had “an especially close relationship.” At one point in the investigation, one redacted witness remarked, “Everyone knew (they) had a very close relationship … and I don’t see how teachers wouldn’t have seen it.”

At another point at Rundlett, a student became upset Leung may have liked other students more than her and that there were sometimes meltdowns in the hallway. A student, Perkins said, accused Leung, who is biracial, bilingual, and of dual citizenship, of racism due to his favoritism of some students — but there were no reports to Sica about Equal Opportunity in Education violations or any other documented information about the incident.

In October and November 2014, there were issues with a student, who was “distraught and crying,” due to the way Leung was teaching her and reacted to her issues at school — including emails to parents, with Leung requesting assistance from other staffers, and pictures on his Facebook, and student performances at talent shows at the school.

Much of the information was redacted and documents were sealed and not released to Perkins.

In December 2014, students began discussing with each other about the closeness of one of the female students with Leung.

One student reached out to another on Snapchat about the closeness and one girl told the other to mind her own business. At school the next day, the girls in Leung’s classroom mentioned the incident to him and whether they should speak to Sica about their concerns. Perkins said the students never got a chance to — Leung and another Rundlett staffer came to Sica’s office, “in a very heightened state that was not typical,” asking for help about the rumor.

It was the first time Sica had heard of students hanging out in Leung’s classroom, the report said.

Sica then interviewed one of the students. He said the student “never actually said Leung was having an inappropriate relationship with (a student)” but if they had, he would have taken appropriate action, according to Perkins. However, the investigator challenged the framing of the questions to the student by Sica saying his focus was not on a sexual relationship — something that had not occurred yet but, instead, “to acknowledge the intensity of emotion on all sides.”

Ana Goble, a Rundlett seventh-grader at the time, was suspended, accused of gossiping.

About two months after the Goble suspension, Leung was accused by Perkins of beginning a sexual relationship with one of the students at Rundlett.

The investigation also accused Leung being involved in a back and forth relationship with female students at Rundlett — including manipulating his schedule to be around students with some staffers raising concerns directly to him.

Sica also became concerned about Leung’s behavior in the spring 2016, due to immaturity and other issues which sometimes occurs with younger teachers. The former principal noted in June 2016, at the end of the year celebration with family members, a slideshow that was shown with Leung featured prominently with students in many of the pictures, something that made Sica uncomfortable due to the lack of professionalism. There was another incident of “horseplay” with a male student in the hall which resulted in a student becoming injured, Sica said.

Moving Up To Concord High

After Sica was hired to lead Concord High School, Leung also transferred to the school and was accused of continuing to pursue students and moving in and out of inappropriate relationships with students, Perkins alleged. She noted that it was surprising that Leung would be allowed to transfer while Sica had concerns about his behavior.

Leung attempted to setup a student club similar to the one he had at Rundlett but was told not to by Sica and advised, instead, to get a feel for the school and its culture first.

“Despite this hiccup, Leung quickly managed to establish himself as ‘cool’ among both staff and students,” Perkins said.

One student noted that not unlike Rundlett, Leung was “in the middle of everything.”

A number of employees said Leung’s interactions with some female students “weren’t normal,” with Leung and one girl having a noted “falling out around this time.” Perkins also said a number of inappropriate interactions pushed boundaries with female students, including speaking about their boyfriends, giving them money, cameras, and other things.

After Leung tore cartilage in his knee in May 2016, students began giving him rides — with Sica and another employee questioning why this was happening but not acting to stop it.

In the fall 2017, Leung was allowed to take over a student group and he was accused of pursing girls involved with the club. When questions were raised about his interactions with one girl, Perkins said Leung told staffers, “I’m a personal friend. I know the family. I helped her at (RMS).”

By the summer of 2018, Perkins accused Leung of having sexual activity with one of the students and the relationship continued during the 2018-2019 school year.

Perkins found staffers making “multiple reports to supervisors” about his behavior — with Leung retaliating “against (the) reporting staff.”

December 2018 Incident

According to Perkin’s investigation, the students who accused Leung of hugging and kissing another student in December 2018 near I-393 approached an administrative assistant at Concord High School to speak about the incident.

The students did not want to feel like tattletales, according to Perkins, but were uncomfortable with what they saw.

Sica was told about the incident but did not report the allegation to DCYF, Perkins said. He did, however, open an investigation.

Up to this point, neither Forsten nor Sica had been involved in a sexual misconduct case and another staffer volunteered to assist since he had no relationship with Leung, the report said. Sica contacted Forsten about the case and it was agreed another high school administrator, not connected to Leung, would investigate. No decision was made on whether Leung should be suspended temporarily or anything else.

“Forsten said the decision whether to suspend would depend on whether she thought there was potential for ongoing harm,” Perkins wrote, “but she felt that she couldn’t make that determination until she knew whether the report was true, and she doubted the report because the incident had allegedly taken place in broad daylight in Downtown Concord and she couldn’t imagine any teacher would take such a risk.”

Sica, Perkins said, did not raise previous concerns and Forsten did not contact the New Hampshire Department of Education, Concord police, DCYF, or Belmont, the report said. When asked why she did not contact Belmont, Forsten said, “I don’t know.” Forsten did consult with Palley about the investigation, the report said.

In the past, Perkins said, Rath conducted the investigations at SAU 8. Perkins analyzed notes from all involved about the investigation, conversations, and progress — although Sica’s notes were given to police and he did not keep copies.

The student accused of being in the car with Leung said she felt intimidated during the investigation process, according to Perkins. The student confirmed receiving rides from Leung including the afternoon in question and expressed concern about her mother finding out about what happened in the car with Leung. The student accused Leung of continuing to pursue her and she “tried to act normal,” in part, because of her friends.

Staffers said they knew something was amiss since Leung was even more “fidgety” than before, as well as intense. Leung was overheard saying, “Why are they picking on me? Is it because I’m a guy?,” the report said.

Forsten requested the district’s IT director to produce all emails and communication between Leung and the student as well as video from school surveillance. Four hours later, the director texted Forsten: “I’m only beginning this search and probably will not finish until tomorrow…but the subtext of the emails is such that I think there is something to investigate.”

The IT director found documents on Google Drive accounts by Leung that found “flirting” emails, academic work, photos, and other items.

Leung was interviewed and denied any contact with the student, the report said, adding he admitted to “buying” items and helping the student. After the interview, the staffer’s investigative notes “clearly considered the possibility that there was more of a relationship than the alleged incident in the car, and that some reportable incident may have occurred before.”

The next day, Leung met with Sica, Perkins wrote, and appeared “disheveled and distraught.” On a crumpled piece of paper, Leung “had written his resignation.” Leung told Sica he was “convinced” it was what he needed to do. Sica, the report said, refused to accept it because he felt Leung had given it under duress and other information that was redacted from the report. Sica told Forsten, the report said, he was concerned about Leung’s “emotional state,” due to medical and family issues.

Forsten spoke with other staffers in Leung’s classroom and consulted with Kaplan throughout the investigation but could not recall how many times she spoke with him, the report said. Information about one conversation, four days after the incident, was redacted. But after the conversation, Forsten requested the witnesses to the car incident as well as other staffers be re-interviewed.

Meanwhile, girls were removed from Leung’s classroom and staffers began wondering what was going on. Leung also began “talking more and more about killing himself,” according to one witness, something he attempted to do before being arrested. Leung also accused the student witnesses to the car incident of being “bad people,” according to one source.

In another incident at the school later in the week, Leung was overheard before school speaking with the student about possibly resigning. The student was overhead advising him to resign if it would keep him from taking his own life and ending the investigation. Leung, the report said, decided not to resign because he was told it would not stop the investigation.

The student was re-interviewed and Perkins said she “continued to stonewall” and denied anything happened in the car.

By the end of the week, Sica met with Leung again, who reportedly was taking the weekend to consider resigning, and told Forsten of the conversation — but she did not place Leung on leave.

The next week, the IT director, who was loading documents into a Leung evidence folder, found a strange letter from April 2015 between himself and a student. When Forsten saw it, she asked Palley to eye it because it was so odd.

“She asked, ‘If your daughter got this letter, wouldn’t that concern you?,'” the report said. “Forsten said she ‘couldn’t wrap her head around (it).'”

After the revelation of the letter, in which Leung seemed to be professing his love to a student, Sica told the investigator that he informed Forsten about the 2014 incident at Rundlett. Forsten, however, denied that conversation took place. She didn’t recall Sica telling her about the 2014 incident until months later, in April 2019, the report said.

The IT director also contacted Forsten informing her Leung was actively deleting files from a Google Drive with the girl’s name on it but said they could be backed up.

“He should be instructed not to delete any files while he is under investigation,” she wrote.

The director said there was “no smoking gun” but there was “at least patterns of behavior” and offered to do a “deeper dive” but Forsten did not ask for any other searches, the report said. The IT director, however, continued searching for documents through the end of the month.

Other sexually explicit emails from August 2015 were found later by Perkins’ investigation.

Before the Christmas break, Leung was interviewed again and was “evasive,” denied any issues with the student, and said he was concerned about her. A witness said Leung had asked his union reps if the school could search his cell phone and he was told, no, not without a search warrant. The student’s parent became involved, too, in the investigation and she denied there was a relationship.

At that point in the school investigation, “I didn’t know what we had,” the administrator investigating the case told Perkins. The entire situation was not an “open and shut” case like most investigations. Forsten added, “There were uncomfortable pieces, for sure, but I didn’t know what to make of it. I’m used to dealing with absolutes, and we didn’t have that.”

Officials discussed how to get access to Leung’s cell phone for more information before the winter break.

After returning to class, Leung was told not to have female students hanging around his classroom but “did not stop.” Students were also late to class because they were having lunch with Leung and staffers began to complain about it — Leung, however, ignored the warnings, and was accused of having little interest in interacting with some of his other students.

Sica, the report said, “urged” that the investigation be completed, and he and Forsten spoke with the administrator investigating the incident. The administrator determined “there was a preponderance of evidence that the incident in the car had occurred and that Leung had engaged in other suspicious activity with two students.”

A draft report was created on Jan. 17, 2019, and Sica drafted a letter to Leung, placing him on a performance improvement plan and removed him from his oversight of a student club. The letter referred to Leung’s behavior as “grooming” the girls as well as “repeated boundary violations” that “compromised student safety.” Sica then spoke with Kaplan about the letter, a conversation that Forsten did not participate in, the report said, due to her being away from the district for an undisclosed reason.

“Sica said he felt Forsten’s presence would have made a difference in the school counsel’s understanding of the evidence they had uncovered,” Perkins wrote.

A few days later, Forsten directed Sica to meet with Leung about the report. She wrote another letter and met with him a few days after that telling him to have no contact with the student or the club. Perkins said Sica, appearing to push for a suspension of Leung, reminded Forsten that a coach who admitted to verbally abusing a student was given a five-day suspension. He also said Forsten did not consult with him before writing the letter to Leung, the report stated. Sica said Forsten replied the cases were different because the coach admitted it.

“If I had had all the pieces of the puzzle, it would have made a difference,” Forsten told Perkins, according to the report, adding she believed they did not have enough evidence.

The letter was delivered to Leung and his union representatives chastised officials because both he and the student denied anything had happened.

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Forsten’s Second Thoughts

After attending a statewide superintendent’s meeting in late January 2019, and getting an overview of New Hampshire’s new Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics presented by the state education department, Forsten began to have second thoughts about the Leung case.

The next week, she met with Stephen Appleby, the administrator of the bureau of credentialing, and Rich Farrell, an investigator with the department, and spoke about the case. On Feb. 1, she met with Farrell again and submitted documents and information to him and Diana Fenton, an attorney with the office of governance.

After seeing the documents, Fenton called Concord police, suspecting Leung had a sexual relationship with at least two students.

A detective met with one of the students who denied a relationship and the detective told her the case was going to be closed. But a week later, the department of education notified others, information that was redacted from the report, about the investigation. A student’s parent was also contacted and that’s “when everything happened,” Perkins wrote.

While this was going on, Leung’s contract renewal was recommended in early March for the next school year, according to Perkins.

About midway through the month of March, one of the students admitted to Concord police that Leung had engaged in sexual activity with her in Concord and another location.

Police informed Fenton about the acknowledgement by the student and was asked to keep the information from Forsten.

A detective then called another student back to inform her that she was safe because another student had accused Leung of sexual activity.

By the end of March, Perkins wrote, Fenton was communicating with police about acting on the Leung case in order to get him out of the classroom since he “posed a safety risk to students.” On March 17, Concord police arrived at Concord High School to conduct an investigation.

“When Forsten learned they were there, she sent Sica an email at 1:59 p.m. with notices of non-renewal and suspension and asked Sica to give them to Leung before Leung left school that day,” Perkins said.

Leung was arrested on April 3.

Investigation’s Conclusions; Placing Blame

Perkins said her investigation revealed “overwhelming evidence” that Leung “violated numerous school and district policies” before he was ever accused of inappropriate behavior like accusations of sexual relations and the rape charges against him in the Bay State.

Around the time Goble raised issues about his behavior with girls, “Leung … was in fact engaged in communications with (a student) that would violation the district’s Internet use policies” and “retaliated against (another student) when she began complaining about his favoritism …” and pursued “discipline against her.” He also posted pictures on Facebook that violated district policies and federal law.

Perkins accused Leung of being involved in sexual activity with one underage student for 19 months although no charges have been filed against him in Concord.

Sica, Perkins said, should have seen the numerous “red flags” about Leung but failed to act effectively on them. Many of them, she noted, pointed to the arrogance factor stated in the report earlier — including failing abide by the school’s dress code, use of his first name, and staff complaints, although Sica challenged some of those complaints as not occurring.

Even after the investigation into the December 2018 incident began, Leung continued his unprofessional behavior, allowing students to congregate in his class, deleting evidence, and even speaking about the investigation with students, the report said.

“Time and again, Sica failed to recognize student and staff complaints, however inarticulately made, as what they truly were — complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation,” Perkins said. “These failures were also influenced by Sica’s assumptions.”

However, Perkins also noted Sica, in the first draft of his reprimand letter after an investigation into the December 2018 kissing and hugging allegation, accused “Leung’s behavior with students as grooming” — which should have prompted more investigation and more than “verbal counseling,” she said.

Perkins called Sica’s responses to Leung “lackadaisical” which may have set the tone for others to not act against Leung. Perkins said while Sica did not have the authority to suspend Leung, he did have the authority to control his classroom.

How and why any teacher accused of grooming would be allowed to stay in a classroom instead of anyone taking “aggressive action to investigate” were clearly mystifying to the investigator as well as the public in Concord during this entire case.

Perkins also laid blame at Forsten’s feet for not having the overall issue of sexual misconduct “on her radar” while it was a national conversation in the wake of the Owen Labrie case and the unfolding St. Paul’s School scandal as well as the history of the district grappling with “significant incidents” during both her tenure and that of Rath’s. She added Forsten “failed” at many levels, including consultation with parents about information in emails and on social media, communication with Concord police after accusations were raised as well as the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, the Title IX coordinator, and the education department. She also failed to place Leung on leave even after all the accusations and incidents, and speaking with students about the investigation, as well as deleting files issue.

Forsten’s defense, Perkins said, was she did not feel she had sufficient evidence and was working with absolutes when it came to decisions about punishment — something the investigator called “flawed” logic.

Perkins added that the “vehemence of the (teacher) union’s response to the allegations,” something Forsten appeared worried about, was “wholly irrelevant” and did not alleviate the district’s responsibility to gather and weigh evidence and impose sanctions. Not taking witnesses seriously, as well, was also a problem.

Perkins added a number of other staffers who worked with Leung “claimed no knowledge of any boundary violations” in 2014 and 2015 despite multiple reports from students, other staffers, and parents. Some staffers, she noted, appeared to be blinded by their friendship to Leung — which led at least one to minimize complaints and give Sica “incomplete information.”

One “long-time district employee” also said administrators “generally side with employees without seriously considering a student complaint,” and Perkins said her investigation “gives credence to that observation.”

‘Loophole’ Law Changes

No charges have been filed against Leung in New Hampshire although changes to the definition of the state’s sexual assault to close what has been nicknamed “the Howie Leung loophole” — banning teachers and others in positions of authority to have sexual relationships with students or others is headed to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk for signing.

The full report can be read here.

Redacted Howie Leung Report for Public Release by Granite Patch on Scribd

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