Letter: Detailing safety ‘protocols’ doesn’t equal plagiarism

To the Editor:

Many of us are still in distress after Parkland, seeking ways to prevent any repeat of similar attacks. We applaud the determination and activism of students who are advocating for safer schools, including reasonable gun control.

Meanwhile, town business cannot be ignored and work on the budget must proceed. Mr. Kim discovered that Schools Superintendent Baldwin (in a letter addressed to Parents, Students and Staff, about reactions to Parkland and safety protocols in Ridgefield schools) had copied substantial portions of text, and he decided to reveal his discovery at a Board of Education meeting. Alas, his presentation was interrupted as Chair Walton declared him out-of-order; BoE bylaws (subject to revision) forbid any “oral presentation that includes charges or complaints against any employee of the board.” Mr. Kim’s attempt to connect the largely-copied letter to the business agenda (the budget) — by attacking the Superintendent’s credibility — seems a stretch.

The shutdown of Mr. Kim’s “gotcha moment” has garnered him notoriety in social media (mostly sympathetic) and the front page of this newspaper. He’s had several opportunities to double down on his charge of plagiarism, even to state that “[Ms. Baldwin] refuses to accept that she plagiarized.” That begs a question: did Mr. Kim attempt to contact Ms. Baldwin or her employer (the BoE) before deciding to address a business meeting in public and fault her integrity? If not, why?

Of course, it would have been preferable for Ms. Baldwin to acknowledge the origin of the copied sections of her letter without prompting. But to label it plagiarism overlooks the reasons that students are held to the highest possible standard when it comes to expressing and supporting their ideas: students who plagiarize cheat themselves and their classmates. By contrast, addressees of Baldwin’s letter about safety “protocols” should probably not have had an expectation of originality.

Tom McManus

Ridgefield, March 5