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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

FLDOE finds probable cause to sanction former Zephyrhills High principal Steve Van Gorden



Steve Van Gorden, who resigned as Zephyrhills High School principal last fall amid allegations of sexual harassment, could soon find himself unable to return to the education profession.

Before leaving office, former Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett issued a finding of probable cause against Van Gorden, saying enough evidence existed to justify sanctions on the ousted principal's state teaching certificate. He wrote that Van Gorden violated state statutes regarding professional conduct of educators, as well as state rules governing the use of a position of authority to gain favors or privileges.

Bennett further found that Van Gorden violated state Administrative Code on harassment and reprisal.

The penalties could be as little as a reprimand, or as big as a permanent license revocation.

Bennett did not make a recommendation on what the outcome should be. He did refer the case to the state Education Practices Commission, which has yet to schedule a hearing date.

Van Gorden has requested an informal hearing before the EPC panel when it takes up the complaint against him. He told the Gradebook that he was not denying he did anything wrong, but that he wanted to be treated fairly, noting that he did not mistreat children and contending that not all the accusations made against him were true.

"I'm not asking for nothing to happen," said Van Gorden, who has moved from Zephyrhills. "But I'm not going to roll over." He suggested trying to take his certificate "is like taking someone that stole bubblegum from the store and giving them the death penalty. ... I am asking for the opportunity to have a fair consequence."

He has assumed a fairly low profile since losing his several public positions, although his name has appeared in the lists of candidates for some highly visible jobs such as head of the Hillsborough Children's Board and area superintendent for Pinellas County schools.

At least one supporter, former substitute teacher Larry M. Robertson, has urged the state to let Van Gorden return to teaching. He wrote in a letter to interim commissioner Pam Stewart:

"In your pamphlet, Florida Education Practices Commission, you state that students are the primary factor in education. This has always been Steve’s position too.  Everything that he was accused of was not as simple or blatant as it appeared to be.  This is why I know that this ‘railroading’ action is not right or accurate.  If Dr. Bennett had read the investigator’s report or read Steve’s response to his correspondence then all action would have ceased and Steve would now be teaching back in public school.  And that is all he wants, is to teach."

Stay tuned.

[Last modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 1:20pm]


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