In Bedford, attorney hired to investigate dean of student's support for former counselorBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
August 10. 2018 11:21AM
BEDFORD — The school district has hired an independent attorney to investigate possible employee misconduct involving Bedford’s dean of students and her recent support for a former counselor who sexually assaulted a student in Exeter.
Attorney Debra Weiss Ford, the managing principal and office litigation manager for Jackson Lewis PC in Portsmouth, has been retained by the district to complete the investigation into Zanna Blaney.
Blaney, Dean of Student Services for the Bedford School District, recently provided glowing testimony in support of former Exeter High School guidance counselor Kristie Torbick at her sentencing hearing; Torbick pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student outside of the Bedford school system.
Two other Bedford High School guidance counselors, Alison Mattson and Christine Mulcahey, were among 23 people who wrote letters of support for Torbick. Torbick worked in Bedford before she left in 2016 and was hired in Exeter where she met the victim, a freshman when the assaults occurred on multiple occasions.
The situation has already resulted in at least two resignations, including the resignation of Bedford’s superintendent, Chip McGee, and Shelly Philbrick, a Newfound Regional High School guidance counselor; several other individuals are facing criticism amid outrage over the support for Torbick, including Bedford’s Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey.
“The investigation will begin this week and will end when all sufficient information has been collected,” interim Superintendent Mike Fournier said. “Upon completion, Ms. Weiss Ford will provide my office with a summary of findings and recommendations.”
In a statement released on Thursday, Fournier said he will review the information carefully and consult with the school district’s attorney to determine whether any further action is appropriate.
“I want to assure the entire Bedford community that the process will be fair and objective and will respect the due process rights of all involved,” he said in a release. “Information will be disseminated in accordance with school district policy, state law and other guidelines regarding personnel information.”
According to Fournier, Weiss Ford has significant experience in this type of work, and has assisted other school districts with various investigations.
“I ask that the community respect Attorney Weiss Ford’s time and allow her to complete this investigation as she deems appropriate. In an effort to complete her work as quickly as possible, she will not be soliciting or accepting input from the public,” said Fournier, adding he will update the community once her investigation is closed.
Bill Hagen, principal at Bedford High School, said in an email to parents on Thursday that he is hopeful the independent investigator will be able to make her recommendations prior to the start of the new school year later this month.
Several parents have already contacted the high school asking that their children be reassigned to different counselors in the fall, raising concerns that the district might begin shifting students around to different counselors to even out the caseload.
“We do not plan to reorganize caseloads,” Hagen stressed in his email to parents. “ … This is, and has been a challenging situation for us all and I appreciate the patience you have had as we work to ensure we are doing what is appropriate.”
Several parents are still calling for the resignations of Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey. Bill Kassler, school board member, said earlier that the controversy has caused the district great sadness and pain.
Kassler said now is the time to move forward, explaining McGee resigned in an effort to promote healing within the community and the district.