There is a deeply disturbing report in the Concord Monitor, a New Hampshire newspaper, about how school administrators in Concord had failed to act upon red flags relating to the behavior of teacher Primo “Howie” Leung around students at a middle school there starting in 2015. Leung, who was concurrently a teacher at a summer program operated by Fessenden School in Newton, Mass., was arrested earlier this year and charged with two counts of aggravated rape of a child, one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child over 14. Some of these alleged assaults took place at a summer program operated by the Fessenden School.
To date, Leung has been the only teacher ever charged with abusing children at the Fessenden School, despite decades of reports and the arrest of two teachers in the 1970s for assaults that took place outside of Fessenden. At the time, Fessenden administrators lied to the media and to investigators about abuse on campus by teachers there, and at other times never reported claims of abuse to authorities. Since 2011, even though myself and many others have called for an independent investigation about abuse at the Fessenden School, the school and its administrators (including former Headmaster David B. Stettler) and lawyers have striven to cover up reports, downplay allegations, and deflect responsibility for the horrors inflicted upon students.
However, where Fessenden failed, investigators in New Hamsphire persevered and published what they learned. The reporters at the Concord Monitor, Alyssa Dandrea and Jonathan van Fleet, summarized what happened. We now have a better idea of Leung’s M.O., even while the Fessenden School claimed it had cleaned up its act. Here are some excerpts:
The girl, a former Concord student who is now 17, told police she was sexually assaulted by Leung multiple times in 2015 and 2016 at the Fessenden School in West Newton, Mass., which provides an overnight English Language Learning summer program.
In 2015, the girl would have been 13 years old. Think about that for a moment. This is during the tenure of David Stettler, the same administrator who pledged that the safety of students was the school’s “highest priority.”
Concord school officials were alerted Dec. 10  that Leung had “engaged in inappropriate conduct” with an 18-year-old female student, who is a different student than the victim Leung is accused of sexually assaulting. Leung was reportedly seen by other students kissing the senior girl in a car in Concord.
District officials said they did not report the incident with the 18-year-old to Concord police because of the student’s age. However, they did forward the results of their investigation to the Department of Education, which ultimately notified authorities.
Leung remained on the job for 3½ months before he was put on paid administrative leave.
Here, we see that this school took the Fessy path, avoiding notifying authorities and even keeping the teacher on the payroll — and around students — after serious red flags were raised. The difference between Fessenden and Concord, though: Concord at least notified somebody, who eventually dropped a dime.
At school board meetings in recent months, community members said there were many red flags before Leung’s arrest that should have caught the attention of administrators. Parents said he had close relationships with several female students he taught and would bring them coffee or buy them lunch.
Perkins said students should not be permitted to spend “significant time” with teachers whom they don’t have for class, and that students should not be permitted to change their schedules without written permission from their parents. She also encouraged the development of a policy that discourages staff from socializing with students outside of school.
Some Fessenden alumni will remember similar tales from the dark days of Fessenden in the 60s and 70s, when teachers like Arthur Clarridge groomed young boys with offers of car rides and special attention.
In 2014, a Rundlett Middle School student told her friends the way Leung treated some female students made her feel uncomfortable.
The girl, who was in seventh grade at the time, was called into the office the day before Christmas break, accused of spreading “malicious and slanderous gossip” and suspended for three days by principal Sica.
“A sexual predator will use any tools at his or her disposal, including ambiguity of rules, a lack of enforcement of rules, or a charismatic personality to accomplish it,” the report continued.
Sound familiar? Look at the comments by students who were abused at Fessenden and tried to report what had happened. Adults ignored them, and in some cases Fessenden victims were expelled.
District communications obtained by the Monitor in a right-to-know request this summer show that officials were aware of interactions between Leung and the 18-year-old student that included “friendly emails,” the “frequent” presence of the student in Leung’s classroom, Leung’s recruitment of the student to the Fessenden School summer program, and Leung giving rides home to the student and a $200 gift to the student that he said was for her mother.
So the Fessenden program was allegedly used by Leung in cases involving two students. The question I have: How old was the second student when this started?
More importantly, what did Fessenden do when it came to training and monitoring this teacher? Remember, Leung was only charged for alleged abuse at Fessenden after New Hampshire educational officials reported him. The Fessenden School (led by Headmaster Steven J. Armstrong since July 2018) either failed to monitor what he was up to, or if they had suspicions, never reported them to authorities.
Two reports about Leung were made to the Concord School District. The longer 100-page report which probably contains additional details about Leung, has not been made public. The shorter 10-page report consists of recommendations for schools to detect predators while improving student safety.
But at least the reports were made. Fessenden has not attempted any sort of independent report. Indeed, of the six points I highlighted at the end of “Headmaster David Stettler’s latest (and probably last) letter to Fessenden alumni“, five still remain true:
David Stettler only told alumni about some of the earlier cases in 2011, and only because the Boston Globe had just reported some of the cases. In other words, it was damage control, not an effort to promote transparency or justice.
No Fessenden administrator, board member, or legal counsel has ever been cited for negligence in failing to report abuse of children at the Fessenden School.
The child predators were able to get away with their crimes for years at Fessenden, and possibly continue their activities after they left. They got away with these sickening crimes, scot-free.
The victims were left without support, ashamed of what had happened to them and traumatized by the abuse. Many have been unable to come to terms with what they experienced, and as adults became addicted to drugs or suffered problems relating to people. Some committed suicide.
There has never been any independent investigation into what happened from the 1940s through the 1980s and how the school handled those episodes (the “comprehensive, detailed, and impartial investigation” he refers to below relates to a current member of the Fessenden faculty).
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There needs to be an independent investigation of what happened at the Fessenden School over many decades and why administrators, Fessenden’s lawyers, and Fessenden trustees failed to monitor staff and report predators to authorities even after reports of abuse surfaced.