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Principal who retired, secretary tell 2 stories

Records show the woman accused the principal of harassing her at his house. He denies impropriety.

An elementary school principal and his secretary agree they met at his house in the middle of a work day. But their accounts of what happened there are in dispute.

Records released Friday by the Pinellas County school district detail an alleged incident of sexual harassment that led to the sudden retirement of South Ward Elementary School principal Fred Murray.

After the secretary reported what she believed was sexual harassment on that day, the district began an investigation. Murray, 57, who had served as principal of South Ward since 1996, then retired. He had been a district employee for 28 years. The secretary was hired in 1998.

"Mr. Murray denies any sexually inappropriate conduct," said Jackie Spoto, staff attorney for the Pinellas County School Board. "He agrees that he had a secretary to his house on a weekday and that he gave her alcohol. That's a problem."

The school district hired Murray as a teacher in 1971. His first job was at Mount Vernon Elementary in St. Petersburg. He worked as an assistant principal at Belcher Elementary in Clearwater and Tyrone Elementary in St. Petersburg before he was promoted to principal at South Ward in 1996.

"All his evaluations were excellent," said Ron Stone, spokesman for Pinellas County Schools. "No students were involved."

In 1992, Murray was nominated as one of President Bush's "Daily Points of Light" by the Office of National Service in Washington, D.C. The nomination said he was an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Seminole as a "sidewalker" for the Horses for the Handicapped program.

Murray was at home Aug. 7 because his wife had just died after a long illness, district officials said.

The secretary, 30, whom the St. Petersburg Times is not identifying because of the nature of the allegation, gave a district investigator the following account:

When she arrived at Murray's home, he said, "Come here, honey" and hugged her and kissed her on the mouth. The secretary said Murray made her a mixed drink and told her, "It would never work between us." She said she agreed.

The secretary told the investigator she was going along with the conversation because she was scared of losing her job.

Murray then encouraged her to go swimming with him in his pool, the woman told the investigator. She said no, but he changed and went into the pool. Murray later asked her in the kitchen to kiss him on the mouth, and she refused.

She said she hugged him goodbye, and he asked her to kiss him again, telling her, "You're scared you will want more," according to the report.

The secretary told the investigator she felt "guilty" for coming forward because his wife had just died.

Murray, however, told the investigator he told the secretary he was going to go sit in the pool because "that was my cue for her to leave."

He also said he offered her a glass of wine. When asked if there was any physical contact between them, Murray said he gave her a hug and they kissed each other on the cheek. He said he never kissed her on the lips, according to the report.

Neither Murray nor the secretary returned phone calls Friday.

On Aug. 8, one day after the alleged incident, the woman filed a complaint with the school district. Murray was placed on paid administrative leave Aug. 14 and retired two weeks later.

"The allegations made by (the secretary) were fairly serious," Spoto said.

The investigation was completed Aug. 28, Spoto said. "We consider it closed because (Murray) retired," she said.

Ron Stone, spokesman for the Pinellas County school district, said the allegations never involved any students. "It was a one-time incident dealing with an adult," he said.

Students were informed of Murray's retirement when they returned to school last month. Acting principal Katherine Bush sent an introductory letter home with them telling them he had retired, without disclosing any details of the investigation.