Parent outrage has erupted in Bedford, New Hampshire after numerous educators spoke in support of a former guidance counselor who pleaded guilty to four counts of felonious sexual assault of a 14-year-old student.
Bedford school superintendent Chip McGee resigned last week after educators from his school district and others spoke in support of Kristie Torbick, 39, of Lee, a former guidance counselor in Bedford for five years who then moved to the Exeter school district where she sexually abused a 14-year-old student.
The Union Leader reports:
McGee’s resignation follows Torbick’s July 9 sentencing, during which she pleaded guilty to four counts of felonious sexual assault and was sentenced to prison for 2½ to 5 years.
Nearly two dozen educators and other professionals attended the sentencing on her behalf.
Bedford Dean of Student Services Zanna Blaney spoke at the sentencing and praised Torbick’s work. McGee was aware that Blaney planned to speak.
Bedford guidance counselors Alison Mattson and Christine Mulcahey also were among 23 people who wrote letters of support for Torbick, who 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.
Interim superintendent Mike Fournier will investigate Blaney’s testimony as parents are also calling for the resignations of Blaney, Mattson, and Mulcahey.
In his resignation letter, McGee said, “I have decided to resign my position as superintendent of the Bedford schools. It would be difficult for me to continue to lead the Bedford School District at this point because of circumstances beyond my control.”
According to the Union Leader, however, parent Nicole Boll was outraged that guidance counselors would come to the support of a confessed child molester.
“The leadership needs to make clear and sometimes difficult decisions,” Boll said. “Chip made this more complicated than it should have been. Chip says it was beyond his control — it was completely in his control.”
“There is no gray area,” parent Tracy Richmond also told the Union Leader regarding Blaney’s support of Torbick. “You either support an admitted child rapist/abuser or you support students and victims. You cannot do both and you cannot be a dean of students and you cannot be our superintendent and lie to our community.”
In a statement to the Bedford community on July 14, McGee said his staff received a request from Torbick’s attorney for supportive character testimony at her sentencing at Rockingham County Superior Court. He said he “agonized” over the decision, but eventually decided to send Blaney “to share information only from the view of a supervisor and only using the actual written evaluations.”
A recent editorial at Fosters.com captured the outrage of the community when it observed the professional educators “stood up in support of Torbick in front of the adolescent victim.”
The editorial continued:
These highly educated professionals – the dean of students at Bedford High School and a guidance counselor in the Newfound school district – helped Torbick’s lawyer make the case for leniency in sentencing. They did this though Torbick’s guilty plea acknowledges the sexual assaults of the student occurred multiple times.
Prosecutors say the sex assaults took place outside a movie theater, among other locations. They also say Torbick exchanged 23,000 text messages with the student, sending nude photos of herself to the teenager.
The Bedford dean of students heaped praise on Torbick, calling her “far and away the strongest school counselor in the department” during her time in Bedford. She said Torbick “would help others to clearly define boundaries necessary to work with students in a supportive and productive way.”
The Newfound guidance counselor directly asked Judge Andrew Schulman for leniency for Torbick and said, “I know in my heart the intent was for her to help.” She made a play for sympathy, too, saying “(Torbick) too has suffered a great loss … a loss of reputation, loss of credentials, loss of dignity and the potential loss of the respect of her children when they are old enough to understand what has happened.”
“Judge Schulman sentenced Torbick to 2 ½ to 5 years in prison with eligibility for parole after 2 ½ years,” Fosters.com also reported. “Prosecutors had sought 5 to 10 years in prison.”
On its website, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence posted a list of some of the professionals who provided support to Torbick and excerpts of their testimony:
In some cases these professionals submitted letters of support that contained views we consider to be even more alarming than those expressed by the two counselors who spoke at the sentencing hearing.
For instance, a sex offender treatment provider wrote to the court:
“Kristie takes full responsibility for her actions with her ‘victim.’ I put this in parentheses because I am aware that her ‘victim’ was truly the pursuer in this case.”
A pediatrician in Concord who worked with Kristie at a children’s camp, but was not involved in this case and therefore did not ever evaluate or interview the child, wrote: “She is not a threat to others or to society.”
And a friend of Kristie’s who is an attorney who worked with her at the same children’s camp writes: “Although I know it is now impossible, I would not hesitate for a moment to welcome her back to camp in her capacity as a cabin counselor; she was a treasure.”
“Students, parents, and administrators are appropriately demanding accountability for the two guidance counselors who crossed serious boundaries in the defense of their friend,” the coalition asserted. “Their actions not only re-victimized the young survivor in this case but also threatened the safety of the children in their own districts.”
Among those who lent support to Torbick was Nancy Strapko, Ph.D., a Plymouth State University professor and sex offender treatment provider who provided counseling to Torbick. As noted by the coalition, Strapko wrote a letter in support of Torbick, asserting that she was not the predator, but that the 14-year-old victim “was truly the pursuer.”
Subsequently, Strapko was fired for publicly portraying Torbick as the victim. University president Donald Birx and provost Robin Dorff told the Associated Press Strapko’s depiction is “legally wrong and morally reprehensible.”
Professors of Counselor Education at Plymouth State University Michael Fischler, Ed.D. and Gary Goodnough, Ph.D. also wrote in defense of Torbick.
Goodnough, who supervised Torbick during her internship and served as her adviser, wrote, “No benefit to society would be served by incarcerating her.”
Both Goodnough and Fischler have reportedly agreed to obtain additional training on sexual abuse.