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Bedford educators who supported molester still employed with school year set to begin

Union Leader Correspondent

August 26. 2018 12:36PM

BEDFORD - Three school district employees under investigation for possible misconduct are still employed, and the newly appointed interim superintendent is expected to receive the final investigative report on Monday.

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 an investigation into Zanna Blaney, the dean of student services at Bedford High School who 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 of the Exeter school system.

Ford's investigation also includes two Bedford High School guidance counselors, Alison Mattson and Christine Mulcahey, who were among 23 people who wrote letters of support for Torbick.

"At this point, all three are currently employees of the district. . No employee has been put on administrative leave at this juncture," acting Superintendent Mike Fournier said on Friday. Fournier was appointed as interim superintendent earlier this summer after Superintendent Chip McGee resigned in light of the situation.

Fournier said Ford has completed her investigation and that Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey were all cooperating in the process.

The independent attorney's report is expected to be given to Fournier on Monday.

"Given the circumstances, we have done everything within our power to try to get this resolved prior to the first day of school," he said. However, Fournier said it is unlikely he will make any recommendations to the school board Monday; school begins Tuesday in Bedford.

The timeline will depend on Ford's report and whether her findings are definitive and clear, according to Fournier, explaining that if the findings are not definitive, he will consult with the district's attorney and likely need more time to consider the situation before approaching the board with any suggestions.

A nonpublic meeting has been planned for Monday following a regular board meeting, at which time Fournier said the personnel matters could be discussed. Several parents are calling on all three employees to resign.

Fournier acknowledged that some parents have requested that their high school students be reassigned counselors because of the matter. Although Fournier did not have an exact number, he said the number of requests are manageable and will be honored, adding the high school has a plan in place to meet those requests.

Last week, Principal Bill Hagen sent an email to parents who requested that their children have no contact with the three employees. The email highlighted the steps that have been established to meet the requests.

"Each student whose parent wishes 'no access' will have a designation ... that will alert employees to that request. This will take a little time at the start of the year to complete," Hagen wrote.

In addition, Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey will not participate in student assemblies or presentations to the student body, nor will they be scheduled to deliver classroom lessons, according to Hagen's letter.

"I think that while the faculty recognizes that there are difficult things happening in the district, they are really looking forward to getting down to business and educating students," Fournier said. "We have hundreds of dedicated and positive educators that care for our students and that are professionals. While I recognize this is something that needs to be addressed, it shouldn't diminish all the good things that have happened and will happen."

The cost to hire the independent attorney to conduct the investigation was not available Friday. Fournier said he has not yet received an invoice from Ford, however, the district is monitoring the cost.

He admits this investigation is a complicated matter, stressing that no one wants to hide any information.

"It was completely unethical for guidance counselors to support a confessed child molester," Nicole Boll, a local parent, said recently.

She, along with several other parents in the community, believe that all three school district employees involved should resign.

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