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Principal speaks about resignation, sex allegations | News

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Principal speaks about resignation, sex allegations
News

Zephyrhills, Florida -- Years of alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. That's what school district officials say apparently sparked an investigation of the principal at Zephyrhills High School.

Steve Van Gorden, who resigned from that job abruptly late last week is also the Mayor of Zephyrhills.

The investigative report, released by the Pasco School District, is more than 300 pages of records, letters, investigative notes and evidence.

Some of the less-flattering comments go a long way in explaining why Van Gorden resigned his post as principal at Zephyrhills High School.

"It's horrible. It's just horrible and I feel so sorry," Van Gorden admitted.

As the Pasco School Board was accepting Gorden's resignation, the now-former Zephyrhills principal told us he knew he had acted inappropriately.

"There's just no other way to say it other than that I did not make good decisions when interacting with female staff," he said.

The investigation reveals at least three years of emails, text messages and Facebook comments with female subordinates.

In some cases, the communications seek sexual favors referred to as "stress relief" and, occasionally, veiled promises of career advancement.

"I just want to say to those that were impacted, I'm really, really sorry and I hope at one point in time they can forgive my mistake," said Van Gorden.

Larry Robertson, a substitute teacher, addressed the Board on behalf of Van Gorden's supporters.

"We certainly feel that the punishment does not fit the crime," he said, hoping for a re-assignment rather than accepting the resignation.

The board, however, accepted Van Gorden's resignation unanimously.

The 37-year-old father of two who got divorced four years ago says he has never fully addressed the separation appropriately.

The hardest part now, he says, has been trying to explain all of this to his children.

"For me to have those conversations - they were gut-wrenching," he says, "You know, and then to look my mom and dad in the face and say, 'hey, you know, I ruined my life'."

While Van Gorden himself describes his behavior as inappropriate and lacking in judgment, he does not believe that his conduct as a principal with the Pasco School District should influence his political position with the City of Zephyrhills as its mayor.

Some living in Zephyrhills may, however, feel differently.

Marcia Johnson, a Zephyrhills resident, thinks it's likely to effect Van Gorden's reputation.

"Who's to say if his judgment in that area, which is such a sensitive area is so poor, how can you trust him to make any good decisions?" asked Johnson.

"Right now politics is the furthest thing from my mind," said Van Gorden. "Getting a job for my two kids is my number one priority."

Van Gorden, who is clearly well-connected in Zephyrhills, says he'll now concentrate on starting a new career.

But the one he had as principal at Zephyrhills High School and with the Pasco school district is, as of today, officially over.

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