Archive for Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Former teacher appears before Piper school board

April 10, 2002

Despite the problems she endured in the plagiarism scandal at Piper High School, former biology teacher Christine Pelton said she would lead a classroom again someday.

"I'm not giving up my dream," she said to the Piper School Board during its meeting Tuesday, April 9.

Pelton said being a teacher was a lifelong goal and thanked the Piper School District faculty and administration for "letting me take a shot at my dream."

Last fall, Pelton gave 28 sophomore students failing grades for plagiarizing an assignment that was worth 50 percent of their overall grade.

The Piper School Board, at the request of the school district superintendent, overturned her grading decision and lowered the assignment's value so students could pass the course.

Pelton resigned following the school board's action and a national debate ensued concerning cases of academic dishonesty.

But Pelton had no harsh words for board members at the Tuesday night meeting. Instead, she thanked school district parents and students for their support.

Hopefully, the events at PHS will help parents around the country become more involved in their students' schoolwork, she said.

She did not say when she would return to teaching, and left the meeting to the applause of the crowd in attendance.

Piper resident Steve Lichliter also spoke before the school board.

Lichliter wore a purple ribbon signifying his support for Piper School District teachers during his presentation to the board.

Lichliter said he was displeased with the way board members handled the plagiarism case.

"We elected you to the board and we demand you address our concerns," he said.

He also suggested executive sessions be tape recorded to avoid violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.

The school board violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act Dec. 11 when it went into executive session without giving a sufficient statement as to why the closed door session was needed.

Wyandotte County District Attorney Nick Tomasic filed a civil complaint against each of the seven school board members in February.

As part of a settlement agreement, board members admitted to making "a technical and unintentional violation" of the law.

In exchange, Tomasic dismissed the civil petition, although each board member must still pay a $250 fine.

A stipulation that the school district form a committee to develop an age-appropriate plagiarism policy to avoid future situations was also part of the settlement.

Piper School District Superintendent Michael Rooney said the 13-member committee of parents, students, teachers and college professors met last week.

The committee determined "that plagiarism is far from a black and white issue," and developed a protocol for dealing with future plagiarism cases, Rooney said.

That protocol calls for a teacher to be the one who determines whether a student plagiarized, but also for the student to have the option of an appeal to a board.

"That (option) seemed to have the most advantages," Rooney said.

The committee will continue to meet and should have a proposal submitted for board approval by June, Rooney said.

Although it appears the school board is taking precautions to avoid repeating events that have transpired in recent months, it isn't enough to stop a recall petition from moving forward, said Rebecca Jacobs, a Piper parent.

"We're continuing as planned," said Jacobs, who is helping circulate the recall petition to remove board president Chris McCord and board members Greg Netzer and James Swanson.

"We have 20 families taking petitions door to door," she added.

Jacobs is part of a committee of parents and former students that are displeased with the school board's handling of the plagiarism scandal.

It was a decision made for 28 students and not the entire student body, Jacobs said.

"That tells us what kind of leadership we have in this school district," she said.

According to Kansas law, only three board members can be recalled. It would take 681 votes, or approximately 16 percent of the registered voters, to remove a board member.

"I know there has got to be at least 16 percent of the community that feels the way (the committee) does," Jacobs said.

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