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Questions on Chapel Hill High School Principal's principles continue

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There may be further proof of plagiarism by Chapel Hill High Principal Sulura Jackson, weeks after staff at the school accused Jackson of lifting memos and letters from books and other educators without citing the sources.

An online news story, posted this year on a school news site run by her former district in Ann Arbor, Mich., includes a resignation email to school staff that appears not to be Jackson's original work. A January 2010 news article announcing the departure of a California school principal includes essentially the same language (see box, this page).

It would seem to be the latest evidence against Jackson, a lauded Michigan principal who arrived at Chapel Hill High this summer. The INDY reported last month on the accusations of plagiarism.

"Teachers often borrow and share things," one teacher told the INDY last month. "That's not unusual in a school, but I don't think I've ever seen a teacher or administrator put his name on something that he didn't write."

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education has yet to publicly address the allegations. Members have not returned repeated phone calls from the INDY on the subject.

At press time, school system administration had not responded to requests for comment on this story.

"I've never intentionally said these are my words, these are my thoughts," Jackson said last month. "I'm getting these thoughts from other places. I don't pull them out of thin air. I'm always reading." Jackson went on to argue that she is not using the letters for personal gain, although Jackson is compensated for her work as a principal.

School staff, who did not wish to be identified for fear of retribution, pointed out that students at the school would have been disciplined for the same actions.

The Chapel Hill High student handbook specifically addresses plagiarism, indicating that it includes "copying the language, structure, idea and/or thought of another person and representing it as one's own original work or using information obtained from printed or electronic media that is not appropriately referenced."

Meanwhile, Alexandra Freeze, a spokeswoman for the Association of American Educators—a group known for writing ethical boundaries for teachers—told the INDY that plagiarism has "absolutely no place in an academic setting."

Jackson addressed the controversy in a recorded phone message to parents and staff two weeks ago, promising to cite her sources in the future and apologizing for the distraction.

At least one member of the Chapel Hill High School Improvement Team—a joint panel of parents and educators, including Jackson, responsible for crafting school priorities—blamed teachers for the controversy.

"I think it was handled very poorly," said Lynn Fox, a parent who co-chairs the team. "If they had a problem, they should have gone to her and it would have been resolved."

Fox said she does not believe teachers would have faced punishment for speaking out publicly on the issue. "I think we have a very fair school district," she said.

But staff who spoke to the INDY disagreed, noting a pair of longtime Chapel Hill High teachers were transferred by system administration last year over apparent clashes with the school's leadership.

"There's been so much negativity directed at teachers over the last few years," one teacher said. "I think that people feel beaten down."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Another cut-and-paste job."

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