Although the St. Francis School District 15 School Board was there to discuss plagiarism accusations against Chairperson Amy Kelly, two board members took the opportunity to try to get ousted Boardmember Matt Rustad reinstated.
According to Boardmember Suzanne Erkel, she has received many calls on Kelly’s September 2011 Courier column that included “The Starfish Story,” which was adapted from Loren Eiseley’s “The Star Thrower.”
Kelly was a major opponent of Rustad and insisted he resign after it was discovered that Rustad plagiarized a 2010 Iste Community Ning blog entry by Vernon Smith, technology director of Socorro Consolidated School in New Mexico, on paperless school districts in the September 2012 issue of The Courier, the district’s monthly newsletter, Erkel said.
“This is the same thing,” she said.
At least Rustad used the name of the author. Kelly did not, Erkel said.
“Why is it OK for Kelly to do it and not Rustad,” she said.
During a private September meeting with the administration and then-Board Chairperson Marsha Van Denburgh, Rustad admitted to the nearly word-for-word plagiarism, but Kelly is still denying her plagiarism, Erkel said.
There seems to be different rules for different board members and there are rumors that the administration is controlling four members of the board and Kelly is the favorite, she said.
While Erkel said she does not think Kelly plagiarized intentionally, “(Rustad) did not intend for people to think he wrote (his column).”
“I think both were unintentional. I think Rustad’s (plagiarism) was blown out of proportion,” she said.
“I don’t think he should have been fired for it.”
During Rustad’s testimony at a Nov. 14, 2012, administrative hearing, he admitted to intentionally plagiarizing, lying when confronted and creating an alterative article the day he found out that he had got caught in hopes of passing it off as the article he had planned to turn in for the September issue.
“If you are comparing the two (situations) and saying there are similarities, I am not buying that,” said Boardmember Harry Grams.
There is no indication in Kelly’s column that she was taking credit for “The Starfish” story, he said.
When Rustad’s plagiarism was caught, Van Denburgh said she was given his article and a plagiarism checking website.
She followed the same procedure with Kelly’s column and it came back as 67 percent plagiarized, she said.
While Van Denburgh said she does not think Kelly intentionally plagiarized, she also does not think board members should be held to the same level as journalists or anyone who writes for a living.
She also believes The Courier staff should be responsible for running a plagiarism check, Van Denburgh said.
A precedent was set with Rustad and the board could be facing a discrimination lawsuit because it is not following the same process with Kelly as it did with him, she said.
The law used to remove Rustad was a bad law and school boards should not be allowed to vote off another elected official, Van Denburgh said.
The two situations are not the same, according to Boardmember David Anderson.
Not once did Kelly claim to be the author of “The Starfish Story,” which motivational speakers have used for decades without mentioning the author, Anderson said.
He has heard the same story from a past superintendent, at two Minnesota School Board Association conferences and countless other times, he said.
In her column, Kelly states she wants to share a story and she did not claim credit for the story, Anderson said.
While the people she has been talking to want Kelly removed or to resign, Erkel said she is not asking for that but for the board to reinstate Rustad.
Both situations are the same and both were unintentional, she said.
Smith, who was contacted by resident Bill Gardner after Rustad’s column was published, wants his post shared, Erkel said.
Eiseley, who is deceased, was a famous scientist, she said.
Only one motion was made during the discussion on the allegation that Kelly plagiarize – to reinstate Rustad to the board.
The vote failed 4-2 with only Erkel and Van Denburgh voting for reinstatement.
Boardmembers Janet Glover, Grams, Anderson and Kelly voted against.
Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]