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  Educator under Fire Resigns
Joseph Gilpin Is Accused of Raping Two Boys in the 1960s and of Behaving Inappropriately toward Manatee Students in November

By Cory Schouten
Herald Tribune
January 29, 2005

MANATEE COUNTY — Assistant Principal Joseph Gilpin remained in the Manatee schools despite several accusations of inappropriate behavior with students, including one in November where he reportedly patted a boy's bottom and made indecent remarks to two others.

Gilpin denied doing anything wrong, was never charged with a crime and kept his job at Haile Middle School in East Manatee.

But on Friday, Gilpin resigned, two days after the school district learned of allegations he raped two boys in the late 1960s while studying to be a priest in the Northeast.

In his resignation, Gilpin, 60, said he was sorry for "the notoriety that this situation has brought upon you, my colleagues and the school board."

Gilpin had been suspended since Wednesday, when an advocacy group informed the district of the 1960s abuse allegations. He had worked in Manatee schools since 1971. Gilpin did not return calls seeking comment, but has denied the molestation allegations in the past.

Manatee school officials said Thursday they did not know about the allegations against Gilpin until the group told them.

And Assistant Superintendent Patricia Lucas said the district's top three officials didn't know of the Nov. 3 incident either until Thursday, even though a sheriff's investigation into the accusations was triggered by the principal at Haile. The sheriff's report was not in Gilpin's personnel file.

"I just can't imagine why this was not a topic of discussion," said Lucas, who spoke on behalf of the district Friday because Superintendent Roger Dearing was ill. "Certainly, we'll want to make sure everyone clearly understands that things like this need to be brought to our attention."

Lucas isn't sure why top administrators didn't know about the incident, but she said the sudden death of Human Resources Director Bill Owens on Dec. 18 didn't help.

The investigation into the Nov. 3 incident was triggered by a complaint filed by Haile Principal Janet Kerley and took more than a week.

Manatee sheriff's officers interviewed three boys who claimed Gilpin made inappropriate comments to them at a dance at Haile and in the cafeteria a few days later. Deputies took no criminal action against Gilpin, who denied the allegations.

One boy said Gilpin scolded him for "dancing dirty." The boy told deputies Gilpin said, "If he ever saw him dancing like that again, he would cut my small thing off," according to the investigator's report.

Another boy said he told Gilpin it was his birthday and Gilpin said he would give the boy a birthday spanking. According to the report, "Mr. Gilpin also told him he would spank him so hard that he would want more."

The third boy told the investigator Gilpin patted him on his bottom.

The investigator concluded that the incident was possibly a misunderstanding, and he closed the case without action.

Gilpin was reprimanded twice for inappropriate touching of students. In 1996, Gilpin was reprimanded for patting the front of one female student's pants and placing his fingers in another girl's pocket while questioning them about smoking.

In 2000, a parent filed a report with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office saying Gilpin patted his daughter on the bottom with a book. No criminal action was taken after either incident.

Lucas said the district has a background check procedure in place, including fingerprinting, reference checks and criminal checks by the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The district acted to suspend Gilpin on Wednesday within an hour of receiving a letter from an advocacy group that detailed the 1960s sex abuse allegations against him, Lucas said.

The group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the district about two allegations of sex abuse against Gilpin.

In one, Gilpin was accused in a lawsuit of repeatedly molesting a boy from 1965 to 1968 while Gilpin was studying to be a priest in Massachusetts. He was never ordained.

The lawsuit was settled along with several others for $85 million by the Archdiocese of Boston. The suits were settled for a maximum of $300,000 each. The lawsuit against Gilpin was filed in 2001, at least a year before a scandal erupted involving widespread abuse by Boston priests.

The group, SNAP, also told the district about the allegations by another man who says Gilpin abused him from 1968 to 1970 in Maine. Gilpin was a teacher at St. Mary's School in Biddeford, Maine, at the time.

Gilpin has no criminal record in Florida, and he was not charged with a crime based on the allegations of abuse made in the 1960s.

In Manatee County, Gilpin was a teacher and administrator at Bayshore and Manatee high schools and Braden River, Johnson and Haile middle schools.

He served as an adviser for student clubs and went on dozens of overnight trips with students, according to his personnel file.

Gilpin was repeatedly turned down for administrative jobs in Manatee County, his personnel file shows. But Gilpin generally received good teaching evaluations, and his file also contains several mentions of his good rapport with children.

He also has strong support in the community. Robin Lawler, a former student of Gilpin's, said Gilpin was a great teacher. Lawler was so touched by Gilpin's kindness that when she decided to get married, she asked Gilpin to officiate.

"He was like a father figure to me," she said.

Gilpin and his wife, Kathlyn, 56, live in East Manatee. She is a teacher at Bayshore High.

 
 

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