VERNAL — A former teacher at Vernal Junior High School has admitted to having sexual contact with a student.

Norman Ray Bernard, 58, pleaded guilty last week in 8th District Court to one count of aggravated sex abuse of a child and one count of forcible sodomy. The charges are both first-degree felonies punishable by mandatory prison sentences.

In exchange for Bernard's plea, Uintah County prosecutors asked Judge A. Lynn Payne to dismiss 13 additional felony counts against the veteran

educator. Those charges were all related to Bernard's sexual abuse of the same victim or his use of text messaging to communicate with her.

In charging documents, police say they interviewed a 14-year-old girl who said she and Bernard began "an intimate relationship" in October.

The girl told investigators she and Bernard met in the school theater many times and kissed.

During at least two of those encounters, Bernard fondled the girl and once performed a sex act, the charges state. Investigators said the girl

also told them that during the Christmas break she and Bernard communicated by text message on at least four occasions while they were both bathing at their separate homes.

Police said they had the girl call Bernard as part of their interview with her and recorded the conversation. The charges state that the girl

told Bernard she did not want to get him in trouble and he "actually told the female victim to lie to police if questioned."

Bernard, who was an educator for 23 years, taught social studies and drama at Vernal Junior High. He was one of two teachers to receive the

Uintah Schools Foundation's Showalter Endowment Fund Excellence in Teaching Award in 2008. Award recipients are nominated by the community

and are considered to be among the best teachers in the district.

Bernard remains in the Uintah County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest in January. He is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 4.

e-mail: geoff@ubstandard.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik