The principal of Oakland Mills High School acknowledged for the first time yesterday that he also faces punishment in the grade-changing scandal that has rocked the Howard County school, and he has appealed to the Board of Education, which this week overturned a penalty imposed on the former athletic director.
"I've had to face my own disciplinary action, which I consider to be unwarranted, arbitrary and capricious," Oakland Mills Principal Marshall Peterson said in a telephone interview.
Former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke had recommended that Peterson be suspended without pay for 30 days, according to a source familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Peterson declined to comment on the proposed punishment.
O'Rourke took a buyout in late February when his contract was not renewed by the school board.
Peterson's comments yesterday came a day after the Howard County Board of Education overruled O'Rourke and voted to reinstate Kenneth O. Hovet Jr., the athletic director implicated in the scandal.
Hovet was suspended with pay by O'Rourke after the school system announced in November that a football player's grades were changed to make him appear eligible. Hovet's pay was revoked in January, and a month later O'Rourke recommended that Hovet, who also served as a coach and social studies teacher, be fired.
Hovet appealed, and the school board found Tuesday that his suspension and O'Rourke's recommendation were not supported by evidence. Hovet is expected to be given a new teaching assignment by the end of the week and receive back pay, school officials said.
"I support the school board's decision to put the blame where the blame belongs and try to do things to rectify what was done by the previous superintendent," Peterson said.
"I have also faced unwarranted actions by the former superintendent myself and hope to have my situation resolved," Peterson said.
School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin declined to comment on Peterson's disciplinary action, saying it was a personnel matter.
In its decision this week, the board found that the grade-tampering resulted from a systemic failure involving multiple levels of authority, including the former superintendent's office, the school system's athletic department and the administration at Oakland Mills. It did not implicate Peterson, however.
The grade changes "were not unilaterally made by Mr. Hovet but made with the express or tacit acquiescence of the administration of Oakland Mills High School," Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, said in a news release announcing the board's decision in the Hovet case.
In an e-mail to an Oakland Mills High School Internet listserv in February, Peterson said he "did not seek nor did I ask anyone else to seek the eligibility of any student." Peterson said yesterday that he stands by his earlier statements.
"I'm pleased to see the school system moving forward to bring things to a resolution," Peterson said. "One of the things that I've always asked people to do, when given an opportunity, is to not pick sides and remain together as a community."
Peterson said he was pleased with the school board's decision on the Hovet case. In it, the school board said there appeared to be a pattern of unfair treatment.
Attempts to reach O'Rourke were unsuccessful yesterday.
Meanwhile, in a statement released yesterday by his attorney, Thomas R. Bundy III, Hovet thanked the Oakland Mills community for its support during his ordeal. He also explained why he decided to take on a teaching assignment elsewhere.
"Unfortunately, given the current circumstances at Oakland Mills, a fresh start somewhere else is the only realistic option," he said.