Toronto’s top educator resigns following more allegations of plagiarism

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Director Chris Spence.Paint me the fool. I should not have cried.

I should not have been moved, it turns out, by the words purportedly written by Toronto District School Board Director Chris Spence in the wake of the tragic Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

An editorial published under his name in the Toronto Star on Dec. 16 — days after 20 students and six staff members were shot dead inside Sandy Hook Elementary School — appeared to be a poignant example of the heartbreak felt by those who dedicate their lives to educating young people.

Of how the sickness that devastated that small Connecticut town is universal, felt here at home as much as anywhere.

His words now appear to be total bunk. His words appear to be not his words at all.

Spence has resigned from his post, the school board announced on Thursday. It comes after he apologized for one act of “accidental plagiarism” — my term, not his — and accused of several others.

An interim replacement will be appointed soon, said board chair Chris Bolton.

[ Related: Toronto school board boss apologizes for plagiarism ]

Spence apologized on Wednesday for a case of massive plagiarism uncovered in a Toronto Star op-ed. Not the same piece that brought tears to my eyes. A separate one. On the benefits of youth sport.

Entire paragraphs were lifted from other sources, including a 1989 New York Times article.

In Spence’s apology, he says he “must set a clear example for the nearly 250,000 students” in the Toronto District School Board.

He (or someone else) writes:

There is no excuse for what I did. In the position I am honoured to occupy, in the wonderful job I do every single day, I of all people should have known that.

I am ashamed and embarrassed by what I did. I have invited criticism and condemnation, and I richly deserve both.

In his apology, he suggested it was a singular matter of impropriety. Not so. Sadly.

The National Post investigated several other op-eds and blog posts from the school board chair and found more instances of plagiarism. Included in the lot was his piece on dealing with grief after the Newtown massacre.

In it, he described a conversation he purportedly had with his 10-year-old son, in which he was asked, “Was anyone killed?”

The article reads:

“…[S]ome people were killed. It’s very sad. But your school is safe. And I will do anything and everything to make sure you and your sister are always safe at school.”

Then I hugged him. Hug your children and hug them some more. Terrible and unimaginable tragedies like this immediately put everything into sharp perspective.

The Post reports that Spence’s conversation resembles, nearly word-for-word, an account shared by Aisha Sultan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch days earlier. Large pieces of the rest of the article appear to be lifted from elsewhere.

At the time, Spence’s first-hand account was enough to bring tears to my eyes. I pointed to his experience in my own article on the universality of grief.

[ Related: Toronto school board director who plagiarized may be fired ]

I was moved by how Toronto’s top educator was affected by the tragedy. I myself was affected by his poise he held while discussing it with his children.

Shame on him if the allegations prove to be true.