A Florida administrative law judge says Steve Van Gorden, former Zephyrhills High School principal and city mayor, should lose his teaching license.
Judge Lynne Quimby-Pennock wrote that Van Gorden, dismissed in late 2012, had an "inability or unwillingness" to refrain from making inappropriate, sexually charged comments to and about employees, which in turn created a hostile work environment.
That behavior "greatly diminished" Van Gorden's effectiveness as a principal, Quimby-Pennock wrote in her recommended order on his status, after a two-day hearing on charges against him. She advised the state Education Practices Commission to find Van Gorden guilty of several but not all accusations of violations of state laws and rules relating to educator conduct.
"It is further RECOMMENDED that the Education Practices Commission revoke Respondent's certification as an educator, with the decision concerning whether the revocation is permanent being left to the discretion of the Commission," she wrote.
Van Gorden, who has been selling real estate, said via text message that he wanted to consult his lawyer before commenting. He did not respond further.
In documents submitted to the judge, his lawyer argued Van Gorden only should be reprimanded.
Van Gorden acknowledged making some inappropriate comments, such as asking a teacher if she was a witch and if she had magic to make him sexually aroused, lawyer Mark Herdman wrote. That does not mean he disgraced the teaching profession or damaged his reputation beyond repair, the lawyer stated.
Herdman further contended that some of the key witnesses against the former Zephyrhills school and city leader were not credible, saying they made false statements and misrepresented their connections to Van Gorden.
"It can be argued Respondent created an atmosphere at Zephyrhills High School that was too loose, and too open to comments that could, when viewed out of context, be viewed as inappropriate," Herdman wrote. "That does not, however, provide clear and convincing evidence Respondent is guilty of anything other than what he admitted."
Allegations that Van Gorden had sexually harassed employees surfaced in fall 2012, but dated to 2009, when he took over the school. He resigned before he could be dismissed from the Pasco County School District, and later left his posts as mayor, chamber of commerce president-elect and Rotary president under pressure.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]