Local News

School Board Puts End To Plagiarism Scandal, Takes No Further Action

Posted June 15, 2004 7:54 a.m. EDT

— The Orange County School Board officially took a stand on a member who plagiarized part of a graduation speech.

Board members decided to put the matter behind them during a special meeting Monday evening, voting unanimously to publicly acknowledge Keith Cook's apology. They believe the public humiliation surrounding his admitted plagiarism is punishment enough.

"Keith Cook has, on his own, stepped down from his position of chair of this board and suffered extreme embarrassment and humiliation," board member Randy Copeland said.

The board decided not to take any specific action against Cook.

Board member Libbie Hough, who called for the special meeting, opened the proceedings with a critical speech aimed at Cook, saying he violated the board's ethics policy.

"It is because of Keith's dedication, his passion, his commitment, that I find this situation all the more uncomfortable and unfortunate," Haugh said.

Cook admitted to plagiarizing a speech given by former President Bill Clinton cabinet member Donna Shalala.

"It's just an admonition that we don't condone the action and that we would like to see this closed," Copeland said.

"I would like everyone to know that it wasn't intentional. I did not do anything that I thought at the time I was doing wrong. It just turned out bad," Cook said.

Critics question how it was unintentional when Cook read a line that had Shalala's name in it, but replaced it with his.

"We've heard so much from so many people and it is one of those issues where it is tough to know what to do," board member Dr. Dana Thompson said.

Board members say it is time to move on.

"It'll take a long time for my life to get back to normal," Cook said.

"The most important thing is to have the students learn from this. It'd be great if we did too, but most importantly, have the students learn something good from this. And I hope they have," Thompson said.

The board wants the experience to be a lesson for all and decided to stiffen the student penalty for plagiarism from a three-day suspension to 10 days.

The school board added that the true test of whether Cook's apology is publicly accepted will be at the end of July when Cook will be up for re-election.

Cook previously had apologized and resigned his position as board chairman. He repeatedly has said the plagiarism was inadvertent.