The disgraced former leader of Canada’s largest school board, who lost his teaching certificate amid accusations of plagiarism, says he has been disproportionately penalized and would be willing to reveal under oath who helped craft some of his writings.
In a video statement first released to The Globe and Mail, former Toronto District School Board education director Chris Spence said while he has taken full responsibility for the articles and blog pieces that carried his name, copying the works of others was a result of “unintentional” and “reckless” mistakes. In the past, he has alluded to having help with his writing and he said in the statement that this assistance was the source of some of the material that led to allegations of plagiarism.
This is the first time Dr. Spence has signalled that he is prepared to say who produced that material. Dr. Spence was not available for an interview on Tuesday to answer more detailed questions. The TDSB did not immediately provide comment.
Dr. Spence resigned as education director of the TDSB in January, 2013. In December, a discipline committee of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) found him guilty of professional misconduct and his teaching certificate was revoked.
Dr. Spence has appealed the ruling.
In the video, Dr. Spence is interviewed in Toronto by former TDSB trustee Bruce Davis, who is among a group of supporters raising money to cover the former director’s legal costs for the appeal.
Mr. Davis asks Dr. Spence about a passage in a piece he published in the Toronto Star in which he explained the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to his son. The exchange was very similar to an account by a U.S. journalist published a few days earlier.
Dr. Spence said he signed a non-disclosure agreement with the TDSB and could not reveal who wrote that part of the piece. But if under oath, he said, he would tell the OCT that he did not write it and responded “yes” when asked if he would reveal the name of the person who did write it.
Dr. Spence did not attend his hearing at the OCT. He said he was suffering from depression and his doctors advised him not to attend because it would complicate his recovery.
“I’m on the mend,” he said in the video. “I’m ready to fight, because I do believe that the penalty is disproportionate. I say this as someone who has taken responsibility for those allegations.”
The OCT said that appeals are rare. This case is the first in which the OCT revoked a teaching certificate because of plagiarism. In a strongly worded decision, the committee wrote that Dr. Spence was academically dishonest.
“The Member’s acts of plagiarism over an approximately 11-year period were not mistakes; they were deliberate attempts to receive credit for the work of others, and served to bolster his reputation through writing he did not entirely author,” the decision read.
Dr. Spence is also facing charges by the University of Toronto that he plagiarized parts of his 1996 PhD dissertation. In this video, he admitted he did not give proper credit in some parts, but said he was working full time and completing a film, so may have been “reckless and careless.”
“That’s my work and I stand behind that work and I will vigorously defend that work,” he said.
Dr. Spence has been working in Chicago for a social-service agency that helps struggling teenagers. He said he wants to teach again.
“I’ve made mistakes. I’ve taken full responsibility for those mistakes and I want to move on because I believe I do have some talents and gifts that can help to support staff, students and communities achieve their full potential,” he said.
Dr. Spence’s supporters said the video highlights that the full picture around the plagiarism accusations has not been revealed. Rob Davis, a former trustee with Toronto’s Catholic school board, said it is not unusual for leaders of organizations to rely on staff to provide research and write articles and speeches on their behalf.
“I think this is serious enough that other teachers, taxpayers, trustees, members of the college should know,” Mr. Davis said. “They should know what really happened.”
The accusations of plagiarism surfaced when a Toronto Star reader alerted the newspaper that an article written by Dr. Spence appeared to have been plagiarized. That drew attention to his other work, including his blog at the TDSB.
Dr. Spence was often described as an inspirational leader who had a natural ability to connect with students. He was wooed to the TDSB in 2009 from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, where he was director. During his time at the TDSB, he proposed the idea of a boys’ academy as part of a strategy to help struggling students and he was a key advocate for the board’s first Africentric school.Report Typo/Error