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New law closes loophole that allowed sexual contact between students and school staff

By EILEEN O’GRADY Monitor staff

Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Monday to ban sexual contact between school employees and students, which closes the loophole in New Hampshire allowing behavior that was once perceived to be consensual.

House Bill 1240 expands the definition of sexual assault to include any sexual contact between school employees and students between the ages 13 and 18. It’s also a crime to engage in such behavior for 10 months after graduation.

Previously, sexual contact between a teacher or guidance counselor and a youth aged 16 to 17, while against a professional code of conduct, could be considered consensual and not a crime.

“It’s very important that a school has to be a place of trust and a place of responsibility,” Sununu said. “If someone violates that trust and their place of authority, or takes advantage of a child, we now have the tools to take the appropriate steps to hold them accountable.”

Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, who sponsored the bill in the House, and Sen. Jeb Bradley joined the governor in the Executive Council Chamber at the State House for the signing.

“The fact that we have been able to change this story so much, and to do so moving forward for the young people of our state, I think this is probably the proudest moment of my life,” Prudhomme-O’Brien said.

They were joined by Pamela Keilig, public policy specialist at the NH Coalition for Domestic and Sexual Violence and former Concord High School student Ana Goble, who spoke out ag

ainst inappropriate behavior of former teacher Howie Leung.

The legislation came about as a direct result of the assault allegations against Leung, and the Concord School District’s response. Despite numerous reports from coworkers alleging inappropriate behavior, school district officials never reported Leung to police, saying they found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. When three students reported seeing Leung kiss their classmate, an 18-year-old high school senior, the district did not view Leung’s action as a crime because the student was above the age of consent.

The governor also signed another bill, House Bill 705, that increases protections for sexual assault victims and requires colleges and universities to adopt sexual misconduct policies and follow through on investigating them and have appropriate staff, training and resources available to handle situations on college campuses.

“Today, we have taken a significant step towards future assault prevention,”  Sen. Martha Hennessey, who sponsored both pieces of legislation in the senate, said in a statement after the event. “It is a statement that as a state, we stand with our victims and survivors of sexual assault. It is a statement that our survivors cannot be silenced and they should not be denied justice.”

Bradley, Prudhomme-O’Brien, Goble and Keilig stood behind Sununu as he signed the bill into law.

“This bill, it’s not just about changing the law, it’s about changing the culture,” Sununu said. “The culture within our schools, the culture in our classrooms, the appropriate steps that we need to take as adults and the responsibilities that we have in making sure that these children are listened to, that they can be heard and that they have a voice when they are standing up and doing the right thing.”

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