1. Opinion

Editorial: School board member flunks Ethics 101

Hernando County School Board member John Sweeney compromised academic integrity to falsely puff up his son's high school scholastic record. A school district investigative report released last week showed Sweeney wanted a teacher fired for refusing to raise his son's poor grades, misled administrators by falsely indicating he had the superintendent's blessing, culled questions from a test as invalid to raise his son's scores, and portrayed the sophomore English class as an honors class in a failed attempt to improve the teenager's transcript. Yet Sweeney has the gall to seek re-election Tuesday, and Hernando voters should send him a clear message that they want better from their school board.

The district's investigation reflects that Sweeney's meddling raised concerns among multiple administrators who believed the family cheated on make-up tests the younger Sweeney took at home instead of at school with a proctor. Still unhappy with the at-home test result, Sweeney and Tim Urban, the principal of the district's alternative school, tossed out some of the test questions to raise the final mark.

Sweeney's intimidation and the fraud it perpetuated has stained the district, all in the name of college tuition. "They were just looking for the easiest way possible for the student to earn a high grade. It has to do with Bright Futures and the GPA requirement,'' recently retired Springstead High School principal Susan Duval told the investigator. Administrators said one teacher felt intimidated by Sweeney and feared for her job because she denied she had lost assignments turned in by the student as his father claimed. A different teacher said she had been asked to sign a blank change of grade form without knowing the student's name or grade. "I didn't know I was being duped,'' she said.

The 180-page report failed to identify who provided the password to the Sweeney family that allowed the online exams to be administered at home. Urban, in a written statement to the district, said he did not provide the access. He was not interviewed by the investigator and he was not rehired when his contract expired June 30. Sweeney was not interviewed. In statements to the Tampa Bay Times, Sweeney has characterized the investigation as cursory and politically motivated.

His unethical behavior, continued blame-shifting and lack of self-reflection compromises his mission as a School Board member setting academic policies for the school district. He shouldn't be allowed to remain in public office, and voters will get the chance to remove him Tuesday when they decide on the three-person race for the District 1 Hernando School Board seat.

The district investigation is considered inactive and inconclusive. It didn't target Sweeney because it is outside the appointed superintendent's purview to investigate an elected School Board member. That task now falls to the Florida Commission on Ethics, which received a complaint about Sweeney in March. That panel should do its job. There is nothing inconclusive about Sweeney's actions.