Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
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Sweeney drops complaint against superintendent over son’s academic records


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BROOKSVILLE — A complaint brought by Hernando County School Board Member John Sweeney against Schools Superintendent Lori Romano over possibly leaked academic records has been dropped.

Sweeney has also dropped his request for a hearing under the Federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

Hernando School Board Attorney Dennis Alfonso said this week that he is “not aware of any actions pending by Mr. Sweeney against the district at all.”

However, the school district’s investigation into Sweeney’s claims that his son’s privacy rights were violated by the release of academic records is ongoing.

That investigation is being conducted by Heather Martin, the district’s Equity, Policy, Investigation and Compliance Officer.

“Once the investigation is complete, (any) parties potentially implicated will have 10 days to respond before the outcome of the investigation can be released to the media,” Eric Williams, a school district spokesman, said in an email.

Neither Sweeney nor his attorney, Larry Brown, of Orlando, responded to messages seeking comment for this story. Brown previously told Hernando Today that Sweeney simply challenged grades assigned to his son, which every parent has the right to do.

In March, Sweeney was accused by a former school district employee of using his influence as a school board member to have his son’s English grades at Springstead High School raised to Bs, and the courses elevated to honors level. The former employee filed a complaint to the state’s Commission on Ethics.

Grade forgiveness tests can be administered to students who earn a D or F in a particular subject. They are typically administered via end-of-course-type assessments in a school setting.

Letters to Superintendent Lori Romano from now-retired Springstead High School Principal Susan Duval, a Hernando High School guidance counselor and an Endeavor Academy teacher imply that Sweeney’s son took grade-forgiveness tests at home.

The guidance counselor at Hernando High said in her letter the student had instead taken a course “pre-test” to have the grades changed, “not (a test covering) the whole course.”

The counselor said she had a speaker phone conversation involving Sweeney, who said that the student had performed poorly in class because he was sick.

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

The grade-forgiveness tests were to be conducted at Endeavor Academy under the watch of a proctor, Deanne LaBarr, an assessment teacher at Endeavor Academy, told Romano in a letter.

LaBarr said in the letter that the teacher of record would be from Hernando High because, Pritz told her, an Endeavor Academy teacher was being “uncooperative.”

However, Duval, the retired Springstead principal, wrote that “someone had given the parents and/or student the secure information on how to access (the grade-forgiveness test) from home.”

“I then found out that (the student) had taken the test at home,” wrote Duval, who noted that grade-change forms were hand-delivered to the high school by Sweeney.

Neither Urban nor Pritz were offered a contract in the coming school year by Romano, and their former positions have been filled. Pritz had been a finalist for the superintendent job that went to Romano last year.

In December, Romano transferred Pritz to the district’s plant operations site as manager of warehouse and purchasing, reasoning that his skills were more suited to that setting.

Pritz said that Romano did not state in a letter her reason for not offering him a contract.

“I can’t read her mind,” he said this week.

Urban had previously been principal at Eastside Elementary School when the school earned an F grade from the state, a first in Hernando.

The complaint against Sweeney was filed to the Commission On Ethics in March by retired former Hernando School Board employee Nicholas Morana, director of School Support Services from 1983 to 1989.

The commission’s policy is not to publicly comment on complaints, or even confirm they exist, until they are resolved, a spokeswoman said this week.

However, Morana said that a Commission On Ethics representative told him this week that the investigation is ongoing.

“I called her Monday and said, ‘Gee whiz, it’s been four months,’” Morana said. “She said they have no target dates for completion. You can’t expedite it.”

gfox@tampatrib.com

(352) 544-5283

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