Zephyrhills principal probe involved sexual harassment claims
By Ronnie Blair | Tribune StaffLAND O' LAKES - The investigation that led the Zephyrhills High principal to resign involved sexual harassment claims against him, according to documents released Tuesday by the Pasco County School District.
Published: November 6, 2012
Published: November 6, 2012
Steve Van Gorden was accused of making inappropriate comments about or advances toward several staff members at the school, records said.
One woman said she took extreme measures to avoid Van Gorden, even going outside the building in the rain so "I wouldn't have to see him."
Van Gorden announced Friday his plan to resign, and the Pasco County School Board accepted the resignation Tuesday morning without comment.
The principal was placed on paid leave Oct. 19 as the school district investigated the complaints about him. District officials kept mum on the reasons for the investigation, other than to say the situation didn't involve children or criminal activity.
After the board accepted Van Gorden's resignation, the district considered its months-long investigation into his activities complete and released a 300-page investigative file.
According to those records, Van Gorden on numerous occasions made suggestive remarks to employees. On one occasion, he was reportedly intoxicated at a booster club fundraiser and told a school employee he would provide a favor for her in exchange for "alone time" with him.
"Work is extremely uncomfortable and an unhealthy environment for me," the woman said in a written statement she gave to the school district's employee relations department.
One teacher said she was called to Van Gorden's office after she confided in a co-worker that she was being sexually harassed. In a written statement, the woman said Van Gorden "stated he could fire me for making false accusations and this was a serious offense."
"I left the meeting feeling frightened and concerned about my employment," the teacher wrote. "I felt belittled and very intimidated by Mr. Van Gorden."
That teacher said a colleague told her that male teachers and Van Gorden often ranked female staff members by their physical appearance, and Van Gorden had said about her, "I would hit that."
Van Gorden became principal of Zephyrhills High in 2009 after serving previously as principal at Hudson Middle. He has worked for the school district since 1997, starting his career as a teacher at Pasco Middle in Dade City.
Van Gorden was elected mayor of Zephyrhills in April and said he plans to remain in that capacity.
The school board, based on a recommendation by Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, has named Andy Frelick, principal at Ridgewood High, to replace Van Gorden.
Larry Robertson, a substitute teacher who said he was asked by Zephyrhills High staff members to speak at the meeting, asked the board to postpone accepting Van Gorden's resignation until Kurt Browning becomes the new superintendent Nov. 20.
"We understand Mr. Van Gorden did something probably inappropriate, but we certainly feel the punishment does not fit the crime," Robertson said.
He said teachers and students are upset about how the case was handled, and Van Gorden should at least have been given the option to transfer to another school.
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