Wednesday Jun 02 2010
School board votes to remove teacher from student government class
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
Roseville High School teacher Ron Grove will be reassigned to another position on campus
Carol Sweeney was fed up. She’d had enough. So the mom of two daughters filed an official complaint against Roseville High School teacher and varsity women’s volleyball coach Ron Grove, alleging that he bullies certain students and uses inappropriate language in the classroom. Her daughter, Julia, also filed a complaint. Roseville Joint Union High School District board members voted 4 to 0 — member Jack Duran was absent — Tuesday to remove Grove from his role as adviser of the student government class and reassign him to another teaching position on campus. He will continue to teach history. Grove, who has taught at the school for 26 years, declined to comment under advisement from lawyers with the California Teachers Association. “I think the board reacted appropriately,” Carol Sweeney said. “I am happy with the decision.” Julia Sweeney, who graduated in 2008, said she was one of Grove’s “favorite students” and received “preferential treatment,” but that she regularly witnessed the teacher mistreat her peers. “You just go along because you don’t want to be the target,” Sweeney said. Her younger sister, Kathleen, has been of these “targets,” she said. She said Kathleen and another male student were not assigned seats in Grove’s student government class and were made to stand for five days — they had to take a quiz standing up. Sweeney also accuses the teacher of using the terms “slut” and “skank” while joking with students in the classroom. “The minute someone says calling a girl a slut is OK, I have a problem with that,” Sweeney said. The allegations highlight the issue of appropriate teacher behavior — and what happens when the line between adult authority figure and friend becomes blurred. Some students say he played favorites, while his supporters call this a classic case of “when bad things happen to good people.” ‘The most influential teacher in my life’ Roughly 50 former and current students attended the board meeting Tuesday in support of Grove. There was nearly 40 minutes of public comments by both the teacher’s opponents and supporters, including Lia Manfredi, who graduated in 2009. “It is unfortunate that some people have had negative experiences,” Manfredi said. “I never experienced that.” She said Grove helped her through a difficult time after her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Carrie Holden, who graduated in 1995, couldn’t attend the meeting, but e-mailed the Press Tribune to voice her support. “Of all of the teachers I had during my high school years and beyond, Ron Grove stands out as the most influential teacher in my life,” Holden said. She said he has great rapport with students and relates to them on a personal level. “Because of this, I feel that students were more apt to participate in class, more willing to go the extra mile to complete assignments and had just an overall desire to succeed in class,” Holden said. “I wonder whether the complaints against him were simply students who misunderstood his humor.” She said he would never purposefully put someone down or make students feel poorly about themselves. But that’s exactly what Lysette Davis claimed happened to her. In a separate complaint, Davis — who graduated in 2005 but recently decided to come forward — accuses Grove of humiliating and bullying her in class. The district will complete its investigation of Davis’ complaint Friday, said Ron Severson, assistant superintendent of personnel services. “I could see how some students could really love Mr. Grove,” Davis said Tuesday. “I wanted to love him too … (But) by supporting Mr. Grove, you’re saying I don’t matter. I do matter.” The trouble for Davis started in 2003 when she served as junior class president and helped lead rally decorations. At the “green acres” rally, her class decided to decorate the gym with hay. She said Grove yelled at her in front of her peers and accused her of “poor moral character” and “trying to kill his favorite student who was allergic to the hay,” according to her complaint. Her class was disqualified from earning rally decoration spirit points. Davis said she later ran for senior class president against two of Grove's “favorites.” She said that one day she was called out of chemistry class to report to his classroom, where the teacher told her in front of her peers that she was disqualified because she had “bad moral character” and didn’t deserve to win. He accused her of cheating by hanging a campaign poster bigger than regulation size, Davis said. She said he made her carry a ladder by herself to take down the poster. While wearing a skirt, she climbed the ladder trying not to cry. After re-measuring the poster he let her stay in the competition. Davis won the election. While Davis said Grove publicly humiliated her, other students describe his methods as tough love for students who fail to measure up to his high expectations. “Not every student is going to get along with him,” said Lindsey Gallo, who graduated in 2009. “But I’ve never seen him badmouth or degrade students.” Gallo played volleyball at Roseville High School and served as assistant coach of Grove’s under-14 team last year. She was also in student government. She said he became her mentor and someone she could turn to for support. “I think Mr. Grove invests an incredible amount of time and effort into his students,” Gallo said. This year’s senior class president, Senya Merchant, said Grove pushed students to do their best, which may have rubbed some classmates the wrong way. “He only pushes people down because of cares about them,” she said. She described one situation in which a “lazy” classmate failed to “live up to her potential” and disappointed her classmates. One day as this student sat around, Grove said “‘If you’re not going to help the group, then at least help the class’ and he gave her a broom to sweep the backroom,” Merchant said. That student was junior Mandy Strobridge, who said during Tuesday’s board meeting that she “swept the classroom for multiple days, for multiple weeks.” “I was Mr. Grove’s target of the year,” Strobridge said. Student Jonathan Pham, who was in class with Strobridge, said he’d never heard his teacher pick on students or bully them. “My experience with (Grove) has been nothing short of amazing,” Pham said. “We are held to a higher standard because we’re the leaders of the school. He doesn’t treat anyone poorly, but he does recognize students who are doing very well.” But former student Emily Herbst, who graduated in 2008, had a different experience during her two years in student government. “He treated me awfully and it made me regret taking that class,” Herbst said. “He has his favorites and you never got to show your potential if he doesn’t like you.” Several of Grove’s students view him as a friend, such as Rosemarie Dauz, who graduated in 2008. She was in student government and played volleyball. “By being in the class for (four) years, I also developed a bond with Mr. Grove, able to tell him almost anything, from minor events in my life to more personal problems,” Dauz said in a letter. “I told Mr. Grove things in relation to my academics, as well as my personal love life with boys in high school.” She said the teacher often told corny jokes, which created a fun learning environment. Other students, though, say Grove’s friendliness and attempts to relate to his students went too far. Use of terms “slut” and “skank” considered ‘normal’ in Grove’s class Twelve out of the thirteen recent students who communicated with the Press Tribune said they’d heard Grove use the terms slut, ho, skank or whore on at least one occasion in the classroom setting. Sweeney said she heard him use slut and skank on a regular basis. “I was 13 turning 14 going into (that) class,” Sweeney said Tuesday. “When he called a girl a skank, everyone laughed. Oh, it must be normal.” Merchant and Herbst both said he’d used the term slut when referring to the Casaba Dance — the winter homecoming, which students nicknamed “The slut dance,” because of it’s clubbing-type atmosphere. “It’s OK for him because we understand him like that,” Merchant said. But Herbst said this language made her feel uncomfortable. “He’d say stuff like, ‘That’s a slutty dress’ and stuff that I thought was really weird,” Herbst said. “It was considered normal in his class. They thought it was just funny.” Pham remembers one time during Ton o’ Fun — a picnic event — when he heard Grove make a “harmless” joke about a female student being a “ho” as students carried a hose for the slip and slide. Grove’s supporters said he’d only use these terms in “joke form, coming from a father-type figure that was looking out for the reputation of his ‘daughters,’” Manfredi said. Merchant said she recalls one time when she heard Grove use either “slut” or “skank” as the class hosted a video game tournament and a girl wore a “sports-bra like shirt” with her midriff bare to show off her new bellybutton piercing. She fiddled with the piercing and Grove “said something joking and she punched him in the arm and they settled it over arm wrestling.” “Now just thinking about it, I don’t think it was appropriate,” Merchant said. “But I didn’t see it that way while it was happening.” Davis, though, said she viewed how Grove may have treated her as wrong, but she thought at the time that meant there was something wrong with her. In her complaint, she wrote about one moment during senior year. Grove always celebrates his students’ birthdays and half birthdays. He was absent on Davis’ half birthday so the next day the class asked if they could sing to her and say something kind about Davis, as was custom, she said in her complaint. “I will never forget what he said in front of the entire class, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,'” Davis said. “'I can’t think of anything I can say nice about Lysette.’ … How could I be so horrible that he couldn’t even think of one nice thing about me?” She said it made her feel worthless. Several days ago, Davis posted a comment on a Facebook page dedicated to Grove. “It doesn’t matter if 100,000 million people say Mr. Grove changed their life for the better,” she wrote, “If (he) has ruined just one, that person matters.” The students who administer that Facebook page promptly removed the comment. Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.