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Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

Teachers, parents demand school officials correct Piper district’s plagiarism situation

March 14, 2002

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— Teachers and parents angry over a plagiarism controversy at Piper High School demanded Tuesday that school board members do something to rectify the situation.

The Piper Teachers Association and a parents group that organized recently implored the board to apologize, defend the district or resign.

"Our concern is not dying down," Leona Sigwing, chairwoman of the Piper Teachers Assn.'s steering committee, told the board. "Our high standards are crumbling because of your decision, and still you have taken no action."

The board is thought to have secretly agreed Dec. 11 to order teacher Christine Pelton to change the failing grades she planned to give 28 students she accused of plagiarism. Superintendent Michael Rooney gave Pelton the order the next day. Pelton immediately resigned.

High school Principal Mike Adams, who supported Pelton, told staff members in an e-mail Monday that he would resign at year's end, Sigwing said. He has declined to comment publicly.

Board President Chris McCord had no comment for about a dozen district residents who addressed the board Tuesday. Only board member Greg Netzer responded, agreeing with a parent who said it was time to move on.

Piper parent Leroy Stevens urged the board to resign. He said later he was holding a meeting this week to begin a recall petition.

Several Piper residents said they thought the board would be vindicated when all the facts came out, but they were a minority at the meeting.

Worried teachers will leave

Piper senior Kevin Dickson said students are worried that many good teachers will leave the school.

"Teachers don't get paid enough to have their knees cut out from under them," Dickson said. "They deserve our respect."

Wyandotte County Dist. Atty. Nick Tomasic has accused the board of violating the state's Open Meetings Act by taking binding action in secret. The board met in a closed-door session at the end of its meeting Tuesday to discuss how to respond to that accusation, board attorney Louis Clothier said.

Rooney said the district was working to put together a plagiarism policy. He has said that he supports Pelton. However, in court papers, Tomasic said Rooney suggested to the board that he direct Pelton to change the grading system.

On Tuesday, Piper parent Dean Katerndahl asked board members to join a committee the parents are forming. The committee will review policies on plagiarism and the handling of disputes involving parents, teachers and the board.

"We see this as sort of an opportunity to improve the district and maybe even set ourselves out as a model," Katerndahl said before the meeting.

Katerndahl said media stories about the issue had failed to address several areas. For example, he said, at least some students who were accused of plagiarizing on their biology project have never been told what parts they allegedly plagiarized.

Phrases were a clue

Some students apparently were accused because of "four-word phrases" they picked up off the Internet, he said.

"Some of those kids were straight-A students," he said. "They went out for sports and they had good reputations. So at least it raises the question in our head of, 'What is going on?"'

Pelton has said that she did not accuse anyone of plagiarizing for picking up a phrase here or there. She said she saw plagiarism in two essays the students wrote as well as in the shorter reports on leaves.

The teachers association has supported Pelton.

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