Toronto school board boss apologizes for plagiarism

The director of education for Toronto’s public school board issued an apology Wednesday, admitting that he plagiarized passages in an opinion piece he wrote for a daily newspaper.

Chris Spence, the board’s director of education, wrote a piece that was published in the Toronto Star’s Sunday edition and posted on its website about the importance of extracurricular activities in schools.

Two paragraphs in Spence’s article are identical to an opinion piece published in a 1989 New York Times piece. In other places, Spence cribbed material from online sources.

Spence has since written an apology posted on the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) website admitting he failed to provide proper attribution for the work of others in five places in the article.

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

In his posting on the TDSB website, Spence said he wrote down notes while researching his article and then wrote the notes into his piece after coming back to work on it on another day.

“I can provide excuses for how and why this happened – that I was rushed, that I was sloppy, that I was careless – but that’s all they would be: excuses. There is no excuse for what I did.”

Spence also conceded the punishment that a TDSB student would face for plagiarizing – a mark of zero for an assignment – is not fitting for him.

"I am not a student anymore; I am an adult, and an educator. I should know better. And I must set a clear example for the nearly 250,000 students at the TDSB."

Laura Murray, an English professor at Queen's University and an expert on plagiarism issues, told Canadian Press that Spence's misconduct is unacceptable and "undermines the values" that educators try to instil in students.

But while the school board must speak out strongly against it, she said firing Spence — or demanding he step down — does nothing to prevent plagiarism from recurring.

"The school board might decide that because academic integrity is a central value of their organization, that he can't be considered to be doing his job if he plagiarizes — that's the debate that they'll have to have," she said.

Spence said he will enrol in a media ethics course and also apologized to the Star, which has removed Spence’s opinion piece from its website.

Spence, a former CFL player, has been head of the TDSB since 2009.

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