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Board Members Ponder Whether Plagiarism Violates Code Of Ethics

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HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — Members of the Orange County School Board want to know if the now-former chairman violated an ethics code when he plagiarized a graduation speech.

It is the same code Keith Cook helped write.

Cook met with two other board members Thursday looking for answers.

Though Cook resigned Monday as chairman, he is determined to stay on the board.

"Human beings make mistakes," he said.

Cook admits to plagiarizing part of a graduation speech by taking someone else's words from the Internet.

"The site didn't attribute the text to anyone," Cook said, "and as naive as it may sound, I didn't consider at the time the need to acknowledge the source of my material."

Cook's own words in the aftermath have landed on the pages of Time Magazine.

The next step lands in the laps of the other board members.

"I think the board needs to deal with it as a board," board member Libbie Hough said.

Hough pointed to the Code of Ethics that states board members cannot take action that will "compromise the board."

Cook's actions are up for interpretation. They serve as a test for the new code, passed just a month ago.

"The best thing to do is to go through the policy step by step and do what's right," new board chair Brenda Stephens said.

"Public censure," Cook's "removal" or nothing at all could happen under the outline.

Cook, himself, initiated the Code of Ethics that he is now subject to. He said the ultimate decision is for the people, not the board.

"How I'm judged and how I should be judged is for the same people who put me in this position," he said. "I'm an elected official. I'm a politician. Therefore, the people who put me in office have a right to take me out."

Cook has served two four-year terms. He has won every time he has run.

He is up for re-election in July. There are five people running for three seats.

The board has called for a special public meeting Monday at 7:30 p.m. to discuss this further.

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