Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando School Board member John Sweeney could use a lesson in democracy

Hernando County School Board member John Sweeney is caught up in controversy surrounding a grade change for his son.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2010)

Hernando County School Board member John Sweeney is caught up in controversy surrounding a grade change for his son.

What's the role of public education?

That's the first question my fellow judges and I asked every one of the most recent candidates for Hernando County Teacher of the Year. And, as open-ended as it might seem, it's a great question, because there's a right answer, or at least a best one:

Public education advances the cause of democracy. It grants all kids a chance to learn and succeed. It lets them be judged by the same standards as their peers. It gives them a fair shake.

Yes, some end up with better teachers and at better schools than others. But equal opportunity should be the ideal. And if anybody in the system doesn't believe this, her or she needs to find another job.

Which brings us to Hernando School Board member John Sweeney, who receives $33,191 a year largely to make sure the district pursues its loftiest goals, and seems to have failed about as miserably as possible by creating a tiny category of ultra-privileged student — his own son.

According to last week's story by the Times' Danny Valentine, the boy received an F and then a D in his sophomore-year English class at Springstead High School.

He was allowed to restore his grade with online tests in a way not available to most other students. He didn't take the tests at the school, as requested by Springstead principal Susan Duval, but at home — after he or his parents somehow acquired the information needed to access the secure website.

Even that considerable advantage, which brought the boy's grades in both semesters to a C, apparently wasn't enough to satisfy the Sweeneys.

On two different occasions, John Sweeney brought Duval documents signed by Tim Urban, who is principal at the Endeavor Academy, the district's alternative school.

The first misrepresented the test grades as B's. The second falsely showed that the marks were for an honors class, giving added weight to the boy's grade-point average.

The documents John Sweeney delivered, by the way, are called grade-change forms. And if that rings a bell in connection with the Sweeneys, there's good reason.

In 2009, Vivian Sweeney, John's wife and then-assistant principal at Explorer K-8, allegedly sent a signal that she wanted a break for her son on work he had missed, dropping these forms into the mailboxes of teachers at the school.

She was also accused of pressuring teachers to remove a report of plagiarism from the boy's record.

Though she was cleared of intimidating the four teachers who filed this complaint, at the risk of losing their jobs during very uncertain times, a district investigation found she had "blurred the line" between her role as parent and administrator.

The person who is probably hurt most by all this blurring is the one it's designed to help. By covering for him, the Sweeneys have sent a message to their son that it doesn't matter so much if he works hard or does the right thing.

But it's also highly discouraging to everyone in the district trying to send the opposite message: that these things do matter — that they matter more than privilege — which is what public education is supposed to be all about.

So I guess John Sweeney needs a lesson in democracy. As it happens, he's up for re-election in August.

I can't think of a better time to deliver it.

Hernando School Board member John Sweeney could use a lesson in democracy 03/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 6:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Nearly 40 hospitalized on first day Sunset Music Festival, on pace to exceed last year

    News

    To reduce the number of medical emergencies this year, sponsors of the Sunset Music Festival promised heightened security and safety measures during this weekend's event at Raymond James Stadium.

    Thousands of people crowd the main stage at the Sunset Music Festival on the grounds of the Raymond James Stadium parking lot in Tampa. Temperature at the time of this photo was 92F [Saturday, May 28, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Woman killed in overnight Temple Terrace apartment fire, city says

    Fire

    TEMPLE TERRACE — A woman died early Sunday as a result of a fire at an apartment complex, city officials said.

  3. Video: Indianapolis 500 drivers in fiery crash somehow walk away uninjured

    Auto racing

    Scott Dixon and Jay Howard avoided injury in a spectacular crash - or what Dixon labeled "a wild ride" afterward - during the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

  4. Homeland security chief defends Kushner's alleged proposal for 'back channel' to the Russians as 'a good thing"

    National

    Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the lone administration official to speak out publicly about reports that Jared Kushner sought a back channel to communicate with the Russian government, defended the move, saying it was a "good thing" for the U.S. government.

    Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, listens during a meeting with small business leaders at the White House on Jan. 30. [Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford]
  5. After hard charging on health care in 2016, Marco Rubio is slow, careful

    Blogs

    As a presidential candidate, Marco Rubio pitched an Obamacare replacement and tore into Donald Trump for not having one. "What is your plan? What is your plan on health care? You don't have a plan," the Florida senator aggressively challenged in a February 2016 debate.