Plagiarism: DeMoss set poor example for students

What will Parkersburg High School Principal Kenny DeMoss say next school year when a student is sent to his office by a teacher who suspects that student of having plagiarized an assignment?

“Sorry, kid, I’ve got to hold you to a higher standard than I hold myself?”

DeMoss made a mistake during this year’s graduation ceremony at Stadium Field. He has admitted as much. But his admission — posted to social media and sent out to parents of all students — is an oddly defensive one that shows a choice to pretend not to understand the seriousness of his having lifted word-for-word large portions of a speech given by someone else six years earlier. DeMoss does say he is sorry … that attention was brought to his poor choice. He apologizes for having offended, not for having done something for which any of his students would be punished — and rightly so.

DeMoss gives the appearance of believing that because he said “something in which I receive no money for, or academic credit, or a transcribed grade,” there is nothing wrong with his having used verbatim another person’s speech. That is precisely the wrong example to be setting for the thousands of students in his charge. They should understand their responsibility to do the right thing does not diminish once there is no money or grade involved.

Perhaps inadvertently calling greater attention to the degree to which he DID lift another person’s work, DeMoss chooses to point out he changed one word from the earlier speech. However, when one listens to both speeches, it is clear DeMoss’s use of the word “intriguing” is a swap out in an otherwise untouched set of sentences for the word “sexy” used by the original speaker. It certainly makes one wonder whether the real reason for that change was to avoid encouraging a stadium full of high school graduates to be “sexy,” rather than an attempt to make the language his own.

DeMoss made a mistake. It is human nature to go on the defensive when called out on a poor choice. He still has a chance to admit — fully — what he did and show that he understands it was wrong. He still has a chance to use his own public example as a lesson for the students he is hoping will respect his leadership and authority next school year.

Surely he will not waste that opportunity.

In the meantime, Wood County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook has called the incident a personnel matter that is under investigation (because, of course, DeMoss DOES receive money to be principal of PHS — and one of the duties of the principal is to give speeches at graduation). One would hope a discussion during that investigation would include reminding DeMoss of the standards to which the young people learning in his school are held, and that he must hold himself to those — or higher — standards.