Athletic director suspended over altered grades reinstated

Howard board decides no one person responsible

August 04, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The Howard County school board voted unanimously yesterday to reinstate the former athletic director of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, who was suspended after he was implicated in a grade-changing scandal that forced the football team to forfeit a playoff game and its seven regular-season victories.

In making its decision, the school board rejected the recommendation of John R. O'Rourke, then superintendent, that Kenneth O. Hovet Jr., who also coached the football team, be fired.

The board found that the improper tampering with a football player's grade to make him eligible for the team resulted from a failure involving multiple levels, including the former superintendent's office, the school system's athletic department and the administration at Oakland Mills.

"The board found that the grade changes in question and made for one varsity football player were not unilaterally made by Mr. Hovet but made with the express or tacit acquiescence of the administration of Oakland Mills High School," board Chairman Courtney Watson said.

"The bottom line is that when you have a systematic failure, the superintendent is responsible," Watson said.

The board said Hovet's suspension - initially with pay, then without pay - and O'Rourke's recommendation that he be dismissed were not supported by evidence.

"No single person was responsible at Oakland Mills," said school board member Joshua Kaufman. "I think you could see a pattern that was repeated in other circumstances where single individuals were held up for public ridicule before the board could act."

Hovet was offered his assignment as a social studies teacher and coach at Oakland Mills, but he and school system officials agreed that he would be assigned elsewhere. His new teaching assignment is expected by the end of the week, said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, adding that a coaching position will be an option.

The school system has hired Richard Hendershott to replace Hovet as football coach and athletic director at Oakland Mills.

Hovet also will be offered back pay dating to January, when his salary was revoked by O'Rourke.

"This has been a very difficult time for me and my family, and I am relieved that I have been reinstated and will be able to resume my career in the Howard County public school system," Hovet said in a statement released by the school system.

"Mr. Hovet is thrilled at being vindicated but not surprised," said his lawyer, James Whattam, an associate general counsel for the Maryland State Teachers Association.

"Mr. Hovet said from the beginning that if the matter was reviewed by a fair and impartial body like the Board of Education that he expected to be vindicated."

On the eve of the state high school football tournament in November, the school system announced that the Oakland Mills team had used an ineligible player.

Hovet was placed on administrative leave with pay after the allegations. His pay was revoked in January when the results of the investigation were announced.

In February, O'Rourke recommended that Hovet be fired from his positions as a teacher, coach and athletic director.

A further investigation found more ineligible participants in extracurricular activities, and other coaches and administrators, none of whom was identified, were disciplined.

Hovet appealed, arguing that he was made a scapegoat to cover up the actions of higher-ranking administrators.

After reviewing 1,800 pages of records and hearing three hours of oral arguments yesterday, the board deliberated for three hours, but the decision to reject O'Rourke's recommendation was made within the first five minutes because the case was so clear-cut, Watson said.

Leslie Stellman, an attorney who represented O'Rourke, declined to comment, saying it was a personnel matter.

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