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Teacher 'in love' sentenced to 5 1/2 years

Dozens of parents and colleagues defend the teacher who had sex with the 17-year-old.

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published July 14, 2007


CLEARWATER - Five dozen teachers, parents and students filled a courtroom Friday.

They came to ask for leniency for Daniel Zdrodowski, a former music instructor at Seminole High School, who was about to be sentenced for having sex with a girl in the band.

He was 28. She was 17. Now 18 and romantically involved with him, she refused to testify against him.

"I believe those two people fell in love," testified Joyce Ostrom, a 61-year-old elementary school teacher who has known Zdrodowski since he was young. "This is a case where every law doesn't fit every crime."

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Nancy Moate Ley was not swayed. She sentenced Zdrodowski to 5 1/2 years in prison. He could have received 15.

"There's is no rule that says you are excused from having sex with a student as long as you are a nice person," said Ley, noting that she often gives talks at schools. "Mr. Zdrodowski, you have betrayed the trust that was placed on you as a teacher."

As deputies led Zdrodowski away with his head down, the young woman with long blond hair, black slacks and a blouse stared ahead.

In May, prosecutors unsuccessfully asked Ley to jail her for refusing to testify. The Times is not identifying the woman due to the nature of the crime.

On Friday, she outlined the relationship on the stand, trying to help attorney Debora Moss secure probation for her boyfriend.

In early 2006, Zdrodowski assisted the band director at Seminole High. He was also the music director at Seminole Middle School.

She said they started dating. Eventually they had sex at two places, including his house.

She said they decided to end their romantic relationship in March 2006, until she turned 18 later that year in December.

"Have you expressed your desire to not prosecute this case?" Moss asked the young woman on the stand.

"Yes," she said.

Parents and former colleagues who testified described a clean-cut young man who was loved in the school community.

When he was hired, they said he continued the music excellence for which Seminole Middle is known.

He just made a big mistake, they said.

"Our band family was devastated," testified Lindsey Diana, a parent who volunteers at Seminole Middle. "He was a model citizen before this incident. And he will be again."

The young woman's mother testified that she was not happy about the relationship when she found out about it. "This was bad timing," the mother said. "But I can see that they belong together."

Zdrodowski has paid a heavy price already, some testified.

"He's lost his ability to teach in the school system," said John Creveling, 58, who added that his son thinks of Zdrodowski as a role model.

"The passion of his life since ninth grade is gone," said Zdrodowski's father, John. "Now he faces the prospect of wearing the scarlet letter."

When he took the stand, Zdrodowski said that he took responsibility for his bad judgement.

"In this case, I fell deeply in love," he said. "I'm asking for mercy and leniency."

They are both adults now, Moss told Ley. Except for eight months, the relationship would have been legal.

"Is (jail) fair?" asked Moss. Is it right in this case?"

Assistant State Attorney Holly Grissinger asked Ley to look at the totality of the situation: He was a teacher. She was a minor student. Teacher and student had sex in his house.

"It is the law," Grissinger said.

Said Ley: "This is a sad day for everyone involved here."