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Principal garners words of support

Parents and teachers at Woodland Elementary School are rallying around longtime principal Randall Belcher, despite allegations of sexual harassment filed against him by a female teacher.

"I truly believe in Mr. Belcher," said Sheila Anderson, as she waited outside the school Thursday afternoon to pick up her daughter, a third-grader.

"He's a wonderful person. He cares about the students and he cares about their education. I don't at all believe what's been said."

What's been said is this: Belcher repeatedly kissed, grabbed, squeezed, poked and rubbed a woman against her will, according to her attorney, Jim Souza.

Additionally, Belcher promised the woman "special treatment" in exchange for "dates and social interaction," Souza wrote in a letter to the county school district.

Belcher's attorney, J. Larry Hart, called the allegations against Belcher unfounded.

"Mr. Belcher has been fully cooperative and is consistent in his denial that any unlawful conduct took place," Hart said Thursday.

"He understands that allegations of this sort, whether valid or invalid, will result in an investigation. That's just the nature of how these things are. He has been cooperative in the past, and he will continue to be so."

The Zephyrhills Police Department began a criminal investigation last month after the teacher confronted Belcher wearing a hidden recording device, according to Souza.

He said that Belcher made several incriminating statements during the conversation.

The woman, who is not being named by the Times because of the nature of the case, already has notified officials that she intends to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against the school district and Belcher.

Not everyone is believing the accusations.

"I'd like to hear both sides. So far we've only heard her side," said veteran fifth-grade teacher Patricia Adkins. "I can't speak for everybody, but most (teachers) are outraged.

"He's always been there for everybody. He's been people's confidant. He's always got an ear if you need it. This isn't right."

Patty Blanyar, who has a daughter in fifth grade and a son in third grade at Woodland, agreed. She said she has no reason to think of Belcher as anything less than admirable.

"All I've heard are rumors, and I'm not listening to any of it," Blanyar said. "All the kids love him. And all the adults I've talked to love him too. This is a shame."

Zephyrhills police Chief Robert Howell told the Times on Wednesday that the ongoing investigation already has shown that "there may be probable cause that (Belcher) improperly touched this person in an area she objected to."

At this point, police said the allegations point to a charge of simple battery, a misdemeanor, against Belcher.

Police, who are working with the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office, also are investigating the possibility that Belcher improperly touched at least one other female school employee "a couple of years ago," said Sgt. Randy Belasic.

Belcher has been the principal at Woodland Elementary since 1985 and has worked for the Pasco school district for 35 years. Before taking the job at Woodland, Belcher was the principal at Lacoochee Elementary School for 13 years.

He earns $71,734 a year.

Belcher is a frequent guest preacher at local churches, and both parents and teachers on Thursday reminisced about family and friends for whom he has performed marriages.

Records show Belcher, 57, was divorced in 1990. He has been on vacation for about a week and a half, choosing to use vacation days rather than face suspension during the investigation.

The school will be closed for spring vacation next week.

_ Staff writer Kent Fischer contributed to this report. Brady Dennis covers law enforcement in east Pasco and the community of Zephyrhills. He can be reached at (352) 521-5757, ext. 23, or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6108. His e- mail is dennissptimes.com

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