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Ethics complaint filed against Hernando School Board member John Sweeney

John Sweeney’s son’s English grades were changed.

John Sweeney’s son’s English grades were changed.

BROOKSVILLE — A formal ethics complaint has been leveled against Hernando County School Board member John Sweeney, seeking an investigation of the role he played in changing his teenage son's English grades.

Nick Morana, a longtime Spring Hill resident and former school district employee, sent a notarized complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics on Tuesday, the same day an article about Sweeney appeared in the Tampa Bay Times.

"We have a pretty good system," said Morana, 88. "The rules are the rules and have to be followed. Mr. Sweeney — I just think he overstepped his authority."

In support of Morana's complaint, he attached a copy of the Times story, as well a news item from a local radio station's website.

Morana said he also wrote a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

"I asked that an investigation be conducted and disciplinary action be taken if warranted," he told the Times.

Pending ethics complaints are not subject to Florida's open records laws, and the Commission on Ethics does not confirm or deny the existence of a complaint until it has been ruled on, spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman said.

The commission meets every six to eight weeks, with the length of investigations varying. Cases may be dismissed without investigation or could result in a full investigation. Penalties can include everything from fines to suspension or removal from office.

According to documents obtained by the Times, Kenny Sweeney, a senior at Springstead High School, was given an unusual opportunity in October to take a series of four tests at home to replace poor grades from his sophomore English course. He earned C's on the exams, though the grades were entered into school records as B's.

In December, John Sweeney hand-delivered a grade-change form for Kenny's English class to Springstead principal Susan Duval, changing his first-semester grade from 27 percent to 80 percent and his second-semester grade from 67 percent to 81 percent.

In January, Springstead officials received another grade-change form. This one changed the class in question from English 2 to English 2 Honors, giving the course greater weight and improving Kenny's high school grade point average.

The form was hand-delivered to Duval by John Sweeney.

The problem? The tests Kenny took were not for an honors-level class, according to a "rigor analysis" performed by district staffers.

John Sweeney has retained Orlando attorney Usher "Larry" Brown.

Through Brown, Sweeney has defended his actions and denied any wrongdoing.

"Mr. Sweeney denies, and it's beyond question, that he did not use his position as a School Board member to obtain any special or unfair advantage," Brown said.

Brown said he has been retained to challenge errors in Kenny's grades and records.

He also expressed the family's deep concern that student records were released to the news media and said the family wants the district to investigate how that happened.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Ethics complaint filed against Hernando School Board member John Sweeney 03/06/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2014 10:04pm]
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