The Howard County Board of Education yesterday reversed a recommendation to terminate former Oakland Mills High School athletic director and football coach Ken Hovet and reinstated Hovet's position as a teacher. However, after a meeting between Hovet, Superintendent Sydney Cousin and school board Chairman Courtney Watson, it was decided that Hovet will be assigned to a new position at a different school.
In concurring with a hearing examiner's non-binding recommendation not to adopt former superintendent John O'Rourke's recommendation to terminate Hovet, school board members strongly rebuked O'Rourke and said that a troubling pattern developed toward the end of his tenure, which ended when his contract was allowed to expire on June 30.
It was the latest development in a saga that began last November, when the Oakland Mills football team was forced to forfeit seven victories and a playoff berth just days before the postseason began for using an ineligible player. That prompted an investigation that found an improper grade change for a football player and 10 students competing in athletics for Oakland Mills while academically ineligible.
Also, sources familiar with the case last night confirmed that Oakland Mills Principal Marshall Peterson was suspended without pay for 30 days by O'Rourke and Peterson is appealing the former superintendent's recommendation. The sources, who asked not to be identified because the suspension is a personnel matter, said the appeal is before a hearing officer, who will make a nonbinding recommendation to the school board.
Watson, in a statement released by the school system yesterday, said that the grade changes "were not unilaterally made by Mr. Hovet, but were made with the express or tacit acquiescence of the administration of Oakland Mills High School."
Attempts to reach Peterson last night were unsuccessful. Cousin declined to comment on any possible disciplinary actions.
Hovet was placed on administrative leave with pay in November and leave without pay in January; he later alleged witness intimidation by school officials and won a civil suit asking for documents pertaining to O'Rourke's recommendation to terminate him. A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning in Howard County Circuit Court to determine if Hovet will receive damages in that case. He will receive back pay from the school system, the school board announced.
"Obviously, Mr. Hovet is thrilled at being vindicated, but not surprised in any way," said Hovet's attorney, James Whattam. "He is thrilled and looks forward to resuming his career."
Said Cousin: "This should have been solved long ago and it should have never risen to the level that it did."
Thomas Bundy, who is representing Hovet in his civil suit, said Hovet declined to comment publicly yesterday.
Hovet's teaching position this school year will be determined by the school system's vacancies, Whattam said. Future assignments were discussed, including the possibility that Hovet could be the athletic director and football coach at a new school scheduled to open in fall 2005.
The five-member school board unanimously reversed O'Rourke's recommendation, the fourth time in 21/2 months that it had overturned a personnel decision made by O'Rourke. "I think there were several things that created a pattern in our mind that were troubling," school board member Joshua Kaufman said. "There seemed to be a pattern of trying to reach a predetermined outcome."
Attempts to reach O'Rourke were unsuccessful.