Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
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District closes investigation into grade leak of Sweeney’s son


Published:   |   Updated: August 24, 2014 at 01:18 PM

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District closed an investigation into who released academic records of School Board Member John Sweeney’s son with inconclusive findings.

The academic records were contained in internal memos leaked to the media in March. The memos alleged that Sweeney used his influence as a school board member to have his son’s English grades at Springstead High School changed.

Details of the investigation were released Wednesday.

According to the report, a key interview with Tim Urban, former principal at Endeavor Academy, could not be conducted as he was not offered a contract with the district this year.

“Due to the non-re-appointment of the staff member and the lack of success in finding who released educational records to the media, this investigation ceases to be active,” wrote investigator Heather Martin, the district’s Equity, Policy, Investigation and Compliance Officer.

Letters to Superintendent Lori Romano from a trio of educators, including now-retired Springstead High School Principal Susan Duval, imply that Sweeney’s son took grade-forgiveness tests at home.

Such tests can be administered to students who earn a D or F in a particular subject and are usually administered via end-of-course-type assessments in a school setting.

The tests for Sweeney’s son were supposed to have been taken at Endeavor Academy, under the watch of a proctor.

The letters to Romano say that Urban and former Assistant Superintendent Ken Pritz facilitated the grade-forgiveness process pertaining to Sweeney’s son.

Like Urban, Pritz was not offered a reappointment contract this year.

In an October email to Romano and Pritz, Duval, the former Springstead High principal, raised questions about how Sweeney’s son could have taken a grade forgiveness test at home, as only a few people have the test’s password, the report shows.

“Whoever gave out this password directly violated the confidential nature of the testing process and circumvented the testing procedures,” Duval wrote. “The parents and student all knew that the test was to be taken at SHS.”

During his interview with Martin, Pritz said that Sweeney and wife Vivian, an assistant principal at Fox Chapel Middle School, accused their son’s teacher of losing his work, sparking an investigation by Pritz.

“I did talk to (the teacher) and she said she lost nothing,” Pritz wrote. “The student did not turn in the papers. She said she wouldn’t have anything to do with changing his grade.”

Pritz wrote that the teacher “felt threatened” by John Sweeney, as he is “a Board member and she was worried about losing her job.”

Urban said in an email to Martin that Pritz approached him and asked whether he gave John Sweeney the password for the grade replacement test.

Sweeney questioned the report’s accuracy in an email late Wednesday.

“The report that you asked me to respond to is purposefully inaccurate, incomplete, and isn’t even close to the truth,” he said.

Board members do not have the ability to change a student’s grade, he said.

“I would never change a student’s grade,” Sweeney said. “I am extremely ethical and this is ridiculous.”

After the grade-changing allegations were published a complaint was filed against Sweeney to the state’s Commission on Ethics. The commission’s policy is not to publicly comment on complaints, or even confirm they exist, until they are resolved.

Last month, Sweeney dropped a complaint against Romano over the release of his son’s school records, as well as a request for a hearing under the Federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

gfox@tampatrib.com

(352) 544-5283

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