BEDFORD, N.H. (AP) — A school superintendent in New Hampshire resigned Friday over his decision to allow employees to publicly support a guidance counselor who sexually assaulted a 14-year-old student.
Bedford Superintendent Chip McGee said in a statement that he decided to step down because he didn't want to become a distraction from "the continued good work happening in Bedford."
"It would be difficult for me to continue to lead the Bedford School District at this point because of circumstances beyond my control," said McGee, who had worked for the school district for 15 years.
McGee had faced growing criticism over the case of Kristie Torbick, 39, who was a guidance counselor at Bedford High School for five years before transferring to Exeter High School in 2016. She pleaded guilty July 9 to four counts of felonious sexual assault against an Exeter student and was sentenced to 2½ to five years in prison.
Nearly two dozen educators and others attended the sentencing on her behalf, including Bedford High School's dean of students. Zanna Blaney called it a "pleasure" to write in support of Torbick's character and described her as "far and away our strongest school counselor in the department of six." And Bedford High counselor Alison Mattson called Torbick "an honest and loyal woman and colleague" and said, "I view Kristie as a model school counselor."
Jannette Mooney, who has two daughters in the Bedford schools, said McGee's resignation is a great first step, but she won't be happy until Blaney and the other counselors who supported Torbick also resign or are terminated. She said in supporting Torbick and not the victim, they've created a "permanent barrier to trust" among students.
"If you just want to show up and support your friend in your individual personal capacity, you certainly have every right to do that. But I don't believe you have the right to use the Bedford school district as your currency to support a child predator," she said. "You certainly have a First Amendment right to say whatever you want within those guidelines, but what you don't have is a protection against the ramifications for your community, especially when these people are educators."
Mooney's younger daughter, 12-year-old Sophie, said that beyond her parents, she's always viewed teachers and school counselors as safe people to turn to, but she wouldn't trust those who spoke up for Torbick.
"These people aren't even an option anymore," she said. "Those kind of people at the high school, I wouldn't want to talk to them after knowing their opinion on Kristie and on the student."
In court documents, Torbick's lawyers say she dedicated her career to helping children after a tumultuous childhood that included surviving cancer at age 3 and later being sexually abused by her mother's drug dealer. They said she has expressed severe remorse and understands her actions were unacceptable, and will not be a repeat offender.
Ernie Downs, a therapist who has been treating Torbick, said she doesn't have the characteristics of a sexual predator but does display traits "calling into question her competency to work with troubled individuals in a helping capacity," including fear of rejection, perfectionism and passivity.
In an earlier statement, McGee defended the employees who supported Torbick, saying they were asked to provide information about her job performance in Bedford, where there were no complaints against her. He said school officials didn't know the details of the assaults until the hearing, and in hindsight, regretted their appearance because it incorrectly suggested that they supported "this horrible and illegal behavior."
Sophie Mooney said school employees who spoke up for Torbick should ask themselves who is benefiting from their actions.
"If it doesn't benefit the students, then the answer is incorrect. If the answer isn't that it's the child who benefits in this scenario, you're totally off base," she said. "If they can't simply do their part in bettering our district, they must resign."
Associated Press Writer Kathy McCormack contributed to this report.