Sunday, December 10, 2017
Education

Zephyrhills High principal on leave pending investigation

ZEPHYRHILLS — Mayor Steve Van Gorden has been placed on paid administrative leave from his full-time job as principal of Zephyrhills High School, pending an investigation into unspecified allegations.

"We're in the middle of an investigation. That's all I can say," said Pasco school district assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose.

She said two employee relations officials are conducting interviews to determine whether the accusations against Van Gorden are true. She would not provide details other than to say the matter does not involve children or the commission of a crime.

School Board member Steve Luikart said he had been told that "two or three people" had come forward and complained that Van Gorden "was not treating them correctly." He had no other information, adding that the news of the investigation "caught me as a surprise."

Van Gorden, who is also president of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and president-elect of the Zephyrhills Noon Rotary, said Tuesday that he had no idea why he had been placed on leave after hours Friday. He was home in bed on Tuesday morning while classes were in their second hour.

"I am sick for real because of this," Van Gorden, 37, told the Times. "I don't know anything about this. … As soon as I know something, I'll tell you."

He added that he did not want to say too much to avoid interfering with the district's review.

Students leaving Zephyrhills High on Tuesday afternoon said they noticed that Van Gorden didn't make the morning announcements. But he's often out of the school for city responsibilities, they noted, so they didn't think anything of his absence. It was not the topic of conversation.

Neither did his job status come up at the Zephyrhills City Council meeting on Monday night, where Van Gorden — who was elected mayor in April — participated as usual.

Van Gorden has led Zephyrhills High since 2009, transferred in from Hudson Middle when Gerri Painter abruptly retired. He is an instructor at Pasco-Hernando Community College's Educator Preparation Institute and supervises interns from Southeastern University in Lakeland.

He was a two-term Dade City commissioner, including a stint as mayor pro tem, before resigning that post in 2009, citing a pending divorce and increased responsibilities at Zephyrhills High. He moved to Zephyrhills shortly afterward.

John Taylor, an assistant principal at Zephyrhills since 2003, is running the school during Van Gorden's absence. DuBose said she expects the investigation to be done quickly to minimize disruption to the school.

Correspondent Lorie Jewell contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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