Archive for Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Piper school board member speaks out against recall

July 10, 2002

One of the two Piper School Board members targeted for recall because of a student-plagiarism issue in December disputes many of the alleged facts surrounding a petition filed for a recall vote.

He also believes many opinions were developed without the public having all the facts.

"It's just blanket accusations," School Board Member James Swanson said of the reasons listed on the petition for recall. "Their facts are wrong and their figures are wrong."

Last week, the Wyandotte County Election Commission validated the recall petition, and a question whether to remove Swanson and board president Chris McCord will appear before Piper voters Nov. 5.

McCord declined to comment.

A third board member, Greg Netzer was also listed on the petition, but he has since resigned from the school board effective June 24.

The controversy in the school district stems from a plagiarism scandal that erupted at Piper High School in December.

That's when PHS biology teacher Christine Pelton questioned whether sophomore students had plagiarized an assignment worth 50 percent of their overall grade.After taking parent complaints, the Piper School Board overturned the teacher's decision and lowered the assignments' value to 30 percent.

Pelton resigned following the board's action.

One of the reasons listed on the recall petition states that the board's actions "adversely affected 98 students in order for 28 students to pass a class."

However, Swanson disputed this and said 28 students did not pass as result of the board's action.

"That's an outright lie," he said.

Piper School District superintendent Michael Rooney said 25 students allegedly plagiarized portions of the biology assignment and of those students, 15 received a failing grade and 10 got a D.

Rooney said the school board did lower the project's overall value because much of the assignments' work was done outside of the classroom and school day.

"It takes away the value of the school day when so much of the work is done out of the classroom," Rooney said.

"It's difficult to justify," Rooney said of the assignment being worth 50 percent of the overall grade.

Another reason listed on the petition is that School Board members violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act when going behind closed doors to decide on the plagiarism issue.

In February, Wyandotte County District Attorney Nick Tomasic filed a complaint against each of the seven board members for the violation.

School Board members later said the violation was unintentional and apologized. The school board agreed to settle the matter out of court by agreeing to pay a fine and institute plagiarism policy.

Swanson said he and other board members didn't know what the executive session was for and that the board decided to settle with Tomasic to avoid further damage to the districts' reputation.

"We pleaded with the D.A. because we wanted it to go away," Swanson said.

The reputation of the Piper School District was further called into question in March when the 12 Deans of Kansas State University sent a letter to the school board criticizing the board for its actions.

The letter also stated that transcripts of Piper students applying to Kansas State would be looked at closely.

However, it appears the letter from the Deans may not have been the opinion of the entire Kansas State administration.

Swanson said he received a phone call from Kansas State president Jon Wefald and during the conversation Wefald denied Piper students would be treated differently than any other student.

"He wanted to assure me that Piper students entering Kansas State would be treated the same as everyone else," Swanson said.

Wefald had no comment this week when asked about the conversation between he and Swanson.

However, letters from James R. Coffman, Kansas State provost, to Swanson, confirm what Wefald allegedly said.

According to a letter sent to Swanson dated March 18, Coffman wrote "I want to be absolutely clear to you, your colleagues on the board, and most of all the students and their parents that graduates of Piper High School will be treated just like graduates of any other high school."

In another letter dated March 22, Coffman wrote, "the Deans' letter is not a statement of any position held by K-State as an institution. That letter represents their view as individual academic officers in the university, not the university itself."

Swanson's critics also charge that "the community, teachers and students have lost confidence in his ability to fairly administer the duties assigned to his position," according to the recall petition.

For Swanson, that statement has him upset the most

"I stood up for them and stood up for their kids," Swanson said.

"I am an honest person and I have done nothing but help this district out," he added.

Swanson vowed not to resign from his position.

"Four years ago, I was elected to serve four years and that's what I plan on doing," he said.

Rebecca Jacobs, a Piper parent on the recall committee, said the situation in the school district was a no-win situation although the group was excited to learn the recall petition had been validated.

"I don't think there's a victory in any of this," Jacobs said. "I would prefer not to have to go through a recall at all."

She said the committee would take a break from the recall situation and begin campaigning against Swanson and McCord in the coming months.

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