The Pinellas School Board fired Gerald A. DiPanfilo, a longtime art teacher at Seminole High School who allegedly had sex with a 17-year-old student he met in a St. Petersburg bar.
St. Petersburg police investigated the incident in 2007 and prosecutors never filed charges. But an administrative law judge recently found that DiPanfilo violated school district policies on sexual conduct as well as the state's teacher code of ethics. The board based the firing on the judge's findings.
DiPanfilo contended he did not know the 17-year-old male was a minor. But the judge ruled that, as a teacher, he "has an obligation to ascertain the age of persons with whom he is involved."
Board member Janet Clark voted against the action, saying there was no evidence the boy was enrolled in the system at the time. The boy, who has a lengthy criminal record, had been receiving an education while in custody at the county's Juvenile Detention Center, district attorneys said. He moved to a detention facility in Ocala and returned to Pinellas in the summer of 2007 expecting to re-enroll in the system. He was not a student at Seminole High.
"We're not talking about a child who was in (DiPanfilo's) classes," Clark said. "I think we're twisting things around when we say this was a student." She also argued that DiPanfilo, who was a teacher with the district 27 years, was not charged with a crime.
School Board attorney Jim Robinson responded: "We're a school district. Different standard."
Clark's motion for a lesser penalty for the teacher died without a second.
"I agree it's very unfortunate," board member Linda Lerner said, "but we hold our teachers to a higher standard."
Said board member Mary Brown: "He did something that I do not believe is excusable."