September 11. 2018 4:58PM

Bedford High counselors to keep jobs after review of support of peer convicted of assaulting student

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent


Kristie Torbick addresses the Rockingham County Superior Court at her sentencing hearing for sexual assault. She pleaded guilty to assaulting a student while a guidance counselor at Exeter High School. (JASON SCHREIBER/CORRESPONDENT)

BEDFORD -- Despite calls for their resignation, two Bedford High School guidance counselors will keep their jobs following an independent review.

Alison Mattson and Christine Mulcahey were among 23 people who wrote letters of support for Kristie Torbick, a former Exeter High School guidance counselor who pleaded guilty this past summer to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student in that community.

“We have concluded, with confirmation from the independent investigator, that the letters written by the two school counselors were written in their individual capacity and not as representatives of the Bedford School District,” interim Superintendent Mike Fournier wrote in a statement released Tuesday.

Fournier said that while the details of the investigation are confidential personnel matters that cannot be disclosed, he said the two counselors will remain in their positions at the high school.

“They have been reminded of the important roles they hold and will be working to strengthen the trust of the community going forward,” Fournier said in a release. “To support this effort, the district will be assuring that all counselors and staff receive training on topics which include sexual abuse of children and revictimization.”

Fournier stressed that the district recognizes and respects the First Amendment right of its employees to speak as individuals, adding the district does not intend to infringe on those fundamental rights.

“While others may disagree with the counselors’ opinions, as public employees they were entitled to share those opinions,” said the superintendent.

While actions and words may often come with legal authority, Fournier acknowledged that they are not always beneficial given the important roles of school staff. He is hopeful that a balance can be met to move the district forward and rebuild trust.

Meanwhile, Dean of Student Services Zanna Blaney remains on paid administrative leave after providing glowing testimony in support of Torbick at her sentencing hearing. Fournier said this matter is still under review.

Attorney Debra Weiss Ford, the managing principal and office litigation manager for Jackson Lewis PC in Portsmouth, was recently retained by the district to complete the investigation into Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey.

Although the portion of the investigation involving Mattson and Mulchahey has concluded, school officials are still studying Blaney’s involvement.

In recent weeks, several parents have publicly urged all three staff members to resign, while others have spoken out in support of the individuals. Former Superintendent Chip McGee resigned earlier this summer in light of the controversy.

Chrisann Dalton, a Bedford parent, recently voiced support for her son’s counselor, Mattson, telling the school board that people make mistakes. She stressed the importance of working through those conflicts and coming out stronger on the other side.

“There should be consequences for their actions,” countered Ellie Therrien. Therrien, of Bedford, said recently that the controversy has cast a negative light on the local school system.

Fournier said he remains committed to being an advocate for students.

“I am more aware now than ever that our words and actions have consequences that can be far reaching and impactful in ways that we do not always anticipate,” he said Tuesday.

NashuaNews@unionleader.com