Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Piper scandal receives attention

February 13, 2002

While educators in the Basehor-Linwood School District said cheating and plagiarism are not significant problems in the school district, administrators are taking precautions nonetheless.

They hope the precautions will help them avoid a situation that has arisen at nearby Piper High School, where 28 students allegedly plagiarized a biology assignment.

After learning of the alleged plagiarism, biology teacher Christine Pelton gave the students a zero for the assignment, which was worth 50 percent of their total grade.

The Piper School Board, after taking parents' complaints regarding Pelton's action, forced the teacher to give the students partial credit and decrease the value of the project to 30 percent of the grade.

Pelton has resigned in protest over the board action and 12 more Piper teachers will reportedly do the same at the end of the year.

Basehor-Linwood School District Superintendent Cal Cormack said he has sent a packet of news clippings about the case to Basehor-Linwood School Board members and has met with school principals to talk about the issue.

"Without passing judgment on anyone (at Piper), it's more of how can we avoid something like this," Cormack said.

"I think most of us can empathize with everyone involved in this at Piper. I can't see how this is beneficial to anyone there."

By being featured on several national news programs, and the recent announcement that the Wyandotte County District Attorney's Office would be investigating the Piper School Board's actions, the case has become a hot-button issue lately.

One Basehor-Linwood High School teacher said it is rare that a teacher goes an entire career without a student cutting corners on his or her class work.

"I don't think any teacher has led a career free of plagiarism," BLHS junior English teacher Josh Anderson said.

Anderson said while cheating or plagiarism aren't frequent issues at the high school, it has happened before.

"Plagiarism has been around for hundreds of years; it's nothing recent," he said.

With information and papers readily available on the Internet, Anderson said teachers have to safeguard themselves against plagiarism.

"You have to be well aware of the students' writing ability and a paper off the Internet may not reflect that ability," he said.

One issue argued by the students' parents in the Piper case was the students did not understand the full meaning of plagiarism or how to avoid plagiarizing another's work.

According to Webster's dictionary, plagiarism is defined as "the unauthorized use of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own."

At least one area English teacher said she had a hard time believing the Piper students didn't know what plagiarism meant.

"Our students know what it means," said Lisa Lugar, an English teacher at Bonner Springs High School. "At age 16, it's hard for me to believe they don't know the meaning of the word.

Anderson said students at BLHS are also fully informed on policies concerning plagiarism.

Lugar, a graduate of Piper High School, said she wasn't sure the incident warranted going all the way to the Piper School Board.

Cormack agreed with Lugar and said if a similar situation happened in the Basehor-Linwood School District, it would be handled at the school level.

"I would hate to see it at the board level," he said. "They are far enough removed where it would be hard to deal with."

And while there is no formal policy or honor code at BLHS, students are required to sign an acceptable technology use statement before using school computers.

If a student is caught cheating in the school district, the disciplinary action is handled by the administration, not the teachers, said Sandra Guidry, BLHS vice-principal.

"The common practice with cheating is referred to the office," Guidry said. "The teachers themselves don't have to tackle that alone."

The issue of academic dishonesty is one with a lengthy history, with academic scandals at schools such as Columbia State, West Point, Minnesota and Texas Tech.

A more recent case of alleged academic dishonesty arose Monday at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan.

According to the Associated Press, as many as 30 Barton County Community College students were involved in academic dishonesty during finals week of the fall 2001 term.

The alleged acts at the community college included students caught cheating on exams, 16 students failing to report the instructor had passed out the final by mistake and two students caught stealing a final exam from an instructor's office.

Despite the recent acts, Cormack, like other area educators, said he did not believe the recent cases in Piper and Great Bend represented a trend or epidemic.

"I would hesitate to say it was," Cormack said. "I think sometimes students are careless and less responsible when it relates to the use of someone else's ideas."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.