This is why she didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Ana Goble, 17, was standing before county attorneys, state senators, executive councilors and others gathered at the Currier Museum of Art. She was so nervous preparing to give a keynote address she drank five glasses of water while she waited for her turn to speak. Her legs were shaking.
“I’m proof that being an advocate and taking steps towards ending violence doesn’t require having letters after your name, years of experience or any sort of certification,” Goble said to the crowd at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence annual celebration. “To stand with survivors and to change a problematic culture – you simply need to speak up.”
At age 13, Goble had been shamed and punished for speaking out about a teacher at Rundlett Middle School in Concord she thought was acting inappropriately with a group of female students. She had endured years of crippling guilt and self-doubt. Tonight was different.
“I love her,” one guest said from the audience as she spoke. “She has guts,” another person said.
People were crying when she finished speaking. She received a standing ovation.
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald nodded his head as she spoke about the need for more support for students and education on sexual violence in schools.
“All of us have a great deal to learn from your extraordinary bravery,” MacDonald said later, when giving his own remarks to the room.
Goble said she couldn’t have imagined being there just four months before, when she was getting ready to tell her story publicly for the first time. She said she always wanted to – it’s why she did not sign a confidentiality agreement when her family settled with the Concord School District in April.
Although speaking out is the scariest thing she’s ever done, she said it was worth it.
In 2014, when she was in seventh grade at Rundlett, Goble told some of her friends that the way their teacher, Howie Leung, treated other female students made her uncomfortable. She said he often was buying students food, hosting private lunches with them and taking them on field trips. She felt like he crossed boundaries.
When Leung heard about what Goble was saying, he went to Rundlett’s principal, Tom Sica.
Sica pulled Goble into his office, accused her of spreading “malicious and slanderous gossip” and suspended her for three days.
“He said that what I was saying was disrespectful,” she said. “I thought it was unfair, but I couldn’t change his mind. I was only 13.”
She had never been suspended before. She was a good student; she loved performing in theater productions, was in the school’s ambassador program and was overly anxious about getting good grades.
Goble said the effects of that stayed with her for a long time.
Leung continued to be her teacher in math that year, and her grades suffered. When she was in high school, she hoped she’d get a fresh start. But Sica and Leung moved up to the high school – meaning she saw them almost every day. She became depressed.
“It was just a lot of guilt,” Goble said. “I became really closed off. I didn’t like sticking up for myself anymore. I felt really worthless. Every time I finally felt better about myself, I just remember thinking, ‘No, people don’t get suspended for things like that. You’re really not a good person.’ ”
When Goble’s family learned that Leung had been arrested in April, they immediately contacted the school.
Leung is accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a Rundlett student starting in the 2014-15 school year, around the same time Goble spoke up.
Goble’s parents asked the school district to eliminate the suspension from their daughter’s student record and to train teachers and administrators on how to respond to reports of sexual misconduct, according to a letter from their lawyer, Scott Harris, sent April 29.
The school district agreed to remove Goble’s suspension, according to an agreement dated June 4. The district has agreed to pay a $10,000 settlement to Goble and $5,000 to her parents for legal fees. Administrators said they would host training sessions and meet with Goble to apologize.
The district’s lawyer also said that she would need to sign a confidentiality agreement. Goble said she never considered signing it.
“What happened to me wasn’t fair, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else,” she said. “The school made a big mistake suspending me and they shouldn’t try to cover it up.”
“Having me speak up hopefully made them learn from it,” she added.
After Goble spoke up and following public outcry, the Concord School Board hired an independent investigator to look into her reports about Leung in 2014, and other reports concerned students made about him in 2018.
Since that time, Sica and the district’s superintendent, Terri Forsten, have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Goble said coming out with her story has helped her regain a lot of confidence.
“I feel so different now,” she said. “Just thinking about myself now and the person I was before the news broke, I honestly had a lot of baggage from that. And now, it’s far behind me, and I have this whole new approach to it. I feel so much better. And I have no regrets.”
During an afternoon practicing her speech at her family’s Concord home, sitting on the couch with her 5-year-old Siamese cat, Tso Tso, Goble said there are some things she’s still working on, like opening up to people.
“I’m really close to one of my teachers, and he always tells me that whenever I open up about something, I apologize,” she said. “And he told me it makes sense. I do that because of how I was treated in middle school.”
She said she’s in awe of all the community support she’s received. She pulled out a pile of cards from teachers, friends – and even state senators – she was sent after telling her story.
“Your courage and conviction is admirable Ana,” her neighbor wrote her. “A lesser person would flinch or shy away from the unimaginable reality that you brought to light. Your strength and courage will carry you far. You have lots of people who are at the ready to stand with you.”
Goble said that even people whom she had not spoken with in years reached out to her. “And so many people were apologetic,” she said. “It was just amazing seeing everyone rally behind me.”
Goble wants to attend school for communications, something she hopes will lead to a career in advocacy. She has been working with the coalition to implement programming for youth around ending sexual violence.
At the coalition event Thursday, Chessy Prout, an author, activist and survivor of sexual assault at St. Paul’s School, addressed Goble directly in a video that was shared with the crowd.
“I would like to extend a special thank you to Ana Goble for using your voice in the face of adversity and the face of resistance to help raise the voices and concerns of survivors in your community and for helping to promote real change in your school,” Prout said.
Although she has come a long way since that defining moment in middle school, Goble said she still has a lot of questions she needs answered before she can truly move on.
“I really want to know what he was thinking, why he did what he did,” Goble said of Sica. “Why was it so easy for him to believe Mr. Leung over me? Did he question his decision?”
The board hasn’t answered whether an investigation into Leung was ever initiated after Goble’s report.
According to its own policies in place at the time, the school district was supposed to investigate any claims of possible sexual harassment against staff or a student, including interviewing the complainant, the person accused of the harassment and possible witnesses.
At the end of September, Goble’s parents reached out to the school board asking if they could have access to portions of the report that explain the school’s actions in response to her suspension. The board has so far refused to release any of the report or to explain why it placed Forsten and Sica on leave.
“Our daughter has been through quite a bit the last 5 years. . . . Finally understanding the full picture of the 2014 events will help give some closure to our family,” Goble’s father, Quentin, wrote. “We understand some information may have to be redacted due to identifiable information but we feel we have a right to this information, and it’s the least that could be done in terms of all that we’ve been through. We would not release the report further – it would just be for our family to view.”
Their formal right-to-know request was denied by a lawyer hired to act as a liaison between the board and the independent investigator.
School Board President Jennifer Patterson answered their email: “I understand your concerns on behalf of Ana as expressed in our meeting during the summer and in your email. The portion of the report the board has received is a confidential investigation relating to personnel matters, and cannot be shared with anyone. The board is taking all measures it can to preserve this confidential status. If at some point in the future release is contemplated, I agree that it would be appropriate to include you in a discussion about how/whether it could be redacted given the circumstances relating to Ana.”
She added, “Thanks again for your patience and courage in this difficult situation.”
Goble said that as empowered as she’s been by the support from the community, she still wants to hear school officials admit they’re wrong.
“I know I was right, but I just want to see how officials see it and administrators see it and how their lawyer sees it,” she said.
She said it’s important that people in leadership roles in school have the proper training to deal with reporting.
“The topic of sexual assault and sexual abuse is really hard to talk about. And I feel like just some professionals haven’t been trained enough to talk about it, which is really an issue,” she said. “Some people just try to ignore it, and hope for the best, but that isn’t the best solution.”
“I feel like people shouldn’t be afraid to talk about those issues,” she added. “That’s why this whole situation happened in the first place. We were just hoping it wasn’t true. But if you want to improve this community, we can’t let that happen again.”