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Duval gets reprimand for plagiarizing speeches

She will stay on as principal of Springstead High, but district officials have referred the case to state authorities.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published June 29, 2005


BROOKSVILLE - Springstead High School principal Susan Duval's punishment for plagiarizing two commencement speeches is one that students in similar trouble would envy: a mild reprimand.

On Tuesday afternoon, school district officials released a copy of the three-paragraph letter of reprimand that will be placed in Duval's personnel file. The letter, signed by superintendent Wendy Tellone, notes that Duval's one-day suspension with pay on June 9 is also "part of the disciplinary action."

District officials have also refered Duval's case to state authorities. While state investigators review whether to take any other action against Duval, she will stay on as principal of Springstead High.

At last year's graduation ceremony, Duval cribbed a popular collection of sayings known as, "All I need to know I learned from Noah's Ark." This year, she read, almost word for word, the text of a famous 1997 Chicago Tribune column often called the "sunscreen" speech.

After the St. Petersburg Times reported that Duval pilfered her 2005 commencement speech from a column by Mary Schmich, she issued a written apology for making "unintentional errors" by not giving proper credit. Duval and Tellone did not respond to requests for interviews on Tuesday afternoon.

Duval, 58, has not publicly explained why she introduced both speeches as her "personal thoughts" or used other phrases such as "my advice" that suggested she was the author.

In the letter of reprimand, Tellone praised Duval for "your immediate reaction of remorse and the fact you wrote a public apology" before she was asked to do so. Tellone also accepted Duval's contention that her acts of plagiarism were "unintentional errors."

"Although I believe your act of plagiarism was not intentional on either occasion, it is not acceptable in the Hernando County School District," Tellone wrote.

"Our students and faculty are expected to adhere to responsible methods of educational research and techniques, and as a principal you are held to the highest standards of academic excellence."

Duval said she found the "sunscreen" speech on the Internet and didn't feel it necessary to look for the author.

Schmich's column was the basis for both an Internet hoax about the writer Kurt Vonnegut and a Billboard Hot 100 hit song. It is often known as the "sunscreen" speech and includes the famous: "If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it."

Duval admitted finding the "Noah's Ark" text in "material" that someone gave to her before the 2004 ceremony, but said she did not discover that it was widely available on the Internet as well, often attributed to an anonymous author.

"I didn't intend, nor would I ever want, to ever take credit for the material that is being questioned," Duval wrote in her letter of apology.

The 2005-06 Student-Parent Handbook recently approved by the School Board details the penalties students face for cheating, plagiarizing or falsifying documents.

In addition to getting "a zero grade," students can also get detention or in-school suspension. The handbook also specifies that students convicted of repeated offenses can be suspended or expelled.

In her apology letter, Duval asked to be judged according to her rank:

"Given the fact that as an educator/administrator I am, and should be, held to a higher standard," Duval wrote, "I stand ready to accept any consequences that the superintendent and School Board might deem appropriate for my unintentional errors."

Tellone ended her reprimand by warning Duval that she would not ignore any more acts of plagiarism:

"You are advised that should you submit documents or remarks without providing appropriate credit to the author in the future in connection with your professional activities, such will result in further disciplinary action."

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 352-848-1431.

[Last modified June 29, 2005, 01:18:19]


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