In what world does a school not only ignore concerns about inappropriate behavior by a teacher but even suspend the student who raised them?
That would be Concord, N.H., where the consequences are still unfolding five years later, with the teacher accused of rape, the superintendent and principal placed on leave, and the whistle-blower, Ana Goble, being honored at Thursday night’s annual fund-raiser for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence.
“All of us are certainly in solidarity with her, but we’re also there to learn from her. What she did is something that many adults struggle with every day,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, the coalition’s director of public affairs, pointing to people’s uncertainty about reporting seemingly problematic behavior. “If the adults in her life listened to her concerns, there very well could have been a different outcome in this case.”
Suffice it to say, no one listened to Goble. As a seventh-grader, she had noticed that a popular special education teacher, Primo “Howie” Leung, spent an inordinate amount of time with a select group of her female classmates, holding private lunches in his classroom and choosing them, over most others, to join him on field trips he ran for the “Student Ambassadors” program.
“He excluded other students,” Goble said in an interview. “He just acted really weird around certain girls, to the point I was so uncomfortable my stomach would hurt.”
In the fall of seventh grade, when Goble asked why she wasn’t among the ambassadors invited on those trips, Leung blamed her attitude, pointing to the Rundlett Middle School’s motto of “PRIDE” — Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline and Empathy — she said.
“He told me that I was not exhibiting enough PRIDE behavior, and he chooses who goes on these field trips or who he eats lunch with based on their behavior,” Goble recalled.
He seemed especially close with one particular girl, Goble said, so she tried to raise the issue with a friend they had in common. That week, Goble also told her mother, who suggested they tread carefully in reporting to the administration, since she had already seemingly offended Leung.
But they didn’t have time to report, they said. By morning, Goble and her parents were summoned to the principal’s office.
“Immediately, he called us in and told us Ana was spreading malicious and slanderous gossip and that she would be suspended for three days,” said Goble’s mother, Kate Frey.
The family backed off.
“Unfortunately, in hindsight, we didn’t push back as much as we should have,” Frey said. “We listened to the principal, assuming that he would have done his due diligence.”
Goble was kicked out of Student Ambassadors and served three days’ suspension, two of them in school. But the principal didn’t move her out of Leung’s classroom, and Ana soon felt he was picking on her.
“She kind of became the girl who cried wolf,” her mother said.
Goble, who hadn’t previously had problems in school, became a bitter but resigned seventh-grader.
“It seemed very out of proportion,” Goble said. “I had known people that had gotten into fistfights in middle school and had gotten a day suspension.”
But she also felt guilty for spreading gossip. So she shut up.
Flash-forward to April, when her father got a call from the Concord police.
Leung had allegedly been spotted kissing a high school student in his car. The school did an internal investigation, according to news reports, and Leung continued teaching through March. But when the Department of Education got involved, so did police, whose investigation brought them back to seventh grade.
The girl Goble had worried about back then told police she had been involved in a sexual relationship with Leung when she was 13 and 14 years old in 2015 and 2016 when he was working at a summer camp at Fessenden School in Newton. In Massachusetts, he’s being charged with aggravated rape of a child, among other charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts, according to news reports.
Goble’s father immediately apologized for not backing her up. And her family demanded action from the school so that the same situation wouldn’t happen again.
In an April 29 letter sent by the lawyer, Goble and her family demanded that the school district expunge her record of disciplinary action, train employees how to respond to claims of sexual misconduct, and pay her $15,000 as an acknowledgement of harm.
Their lawyer was told she’d need to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Absolutely not, the family said.
“We would never support any kind of settlement like that because that’s how we got there to begin with,” Frey said. “In order to make true change, we had to come out and tell our story.”
They spoke to the Concord Monitor newspaper in June, after the superintendent was quoted as saying she was unaware of any past complaints of inappropriate behavior about Leung — less than two weeks after receiving the letter from Goble’s lawyer.
Dean Eggert, the lawyer representing the school district, which ultimately settled without a confidentiality agreement, would not explain why the district had initially sought it.
“I can’t comment on anything that would implicate the privacy concerns of a family,” he said.
Since Goble and her family spoke out, other members of the community demanded the suspensions of the principal and the superintendent and greater transparency from the school district, which is now refusing to release its report on the matter.
The School Board’s president, Jennifer Patterson, did not respond to a request for comment.
Concord, of course, is also the home of St. Paul’s School, which rallied around student Owen Labrie when he was accused of raping an underclassman, Chessy Prout — also in 2014. But Concord is by no means special, said New Hampshire US Representative Ann McLane Kuster. No place is.
Kuster attended the same Concord schools as Goble. “A classmate of mine became pregnant from a teacher back in the 1970s,” she said. “Now fast-forward to this extraordinary young woman, Ana. She was 13 years old at the time. I just want to compliment her courage and grace.”
In 2016, Kuster revealed on the House floor that she had been sexually assaulted in the past. Thursday night, through a video tribute, Kuster will be among those honoring Goble in hopes of educating the public to recognize “a pattern of grooming behavior” that they now believe they should have seen in Concord.
“To have this happen in a school system where every child was vulnerable because administrators did not listen to the concerns — that turned out to be highly attuned — of a 13-year-old girl,” Kuster said, “is unacceptable.”
Update: This story has been changed to correct the description of US Representative Ann McLane Kuster’s experience with sexual assault.