California, Education / Schools, Kids, Lawsuit of the Day

Lawsuit of the Day: Plagiarism Doesn’t Pay

Cheating is never okay, right? That’s one central lesson all students are supposed to learn in elementary school (to say nothing of law school). It’s important to be honest. If a student lies or cheats on a test or homework, there are consequences. There’s nothing up for debate here, right?

Well, at least one northern California lawyer thinks it was unjust that his son was booted from an honors English class for plagiarizing. It appears the lesson he hopes to teach his son is: cheating is bad, but it’s more important that schools have crystal-clear academic honesty policies. He is suing his son’s school district, arguing that his son’s punishment does not fit his crime.

Keep reading to see more about our latest Lawsuit of the Day

The Mercury News has the story of Redwood City attorney Jack Berghouse:

The parents of a sophomore at Sequoia High School in Redwood City have sued the district for kicking the student out of an honors English class last month for copying a classmate’s homework.

The lawsuit, filed April 18 in San Mateo County Superior Court, claims the teenager’s due process rights were violated. It names as defendants the Sequoia Union High School District, District Superintendent James Lianides and Sequoia High School Principal Bonnie Hansen.

The sophomore had signed an “Academic Honesty Pledge” at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year that declares cheating is grounds for immediate removal from the advanced-level program; his mother also had signed it. According to the lawsuit, however, another school document states that a student will be removed from the program only after a second plagiarism offense.

Things get a bit stranger, though, when we learn that Berghouse’s teenage son admits that he plagiarized.

The boy’s father, Jack Berghouse, does not dispute that his son copied his English homework from another student, who also was kicked out of the honors class for the offense. But Berghouse said he believes the punishment is disproportionate to the offense and will jeopardize his son’s academic future.

“He knows it’s wrong,” Berghouse said Tuesday. “You cannot imagine the mental and emotional penalty that has been inflicted upon him. He is a student who has a chance to do just about anything, and he thinks that this could take that away from him. We’ve offered several penalties, anything other than being kicked out of the English program.”

So, even though his son admits (honorably, it seems) that he screwed up, it seems that his father has turned it into essentially a contract law issue. Eesh, file this one under “Bad PR for the Legal Profession.” And as a tipster points out, Berghouse may have one other major problem in his reasoning:

Of course, the dad says he’s concerned that “the penalty will hurt his son’s ability to get into a top college or university.” Apparently the school was willing to work out a silent compromise with nothing on his son’s record, but now everyone who searches for “Berghouse” will find out about his son’s cheating. Can you say Streisand Effect?

It’s true. The school district did try to work out a compromise:

The next day, Sequoia Principal Hansen informed the family that the punishment had been reduced due to a “loophole,” according to the lawsuit, and that the student would be allowed to participate in the International Baccalaureate program after all, with no mention of the cheating on his record. But he would still be left out of the advanced studies sophomore English class.

The family rejected the offer.

Public opinion has quickly turned against Berghouse. And ABC 7 has video clips of angry voicemails he has received, including one calling him a “dirt bag” and a bad parent. The article also mentions the flak the son has caught, forcing him to shut down his Facebook page. It’s interesting watching a video interview with Berghouse. I can’t help but wonder how involved his son has been in this whole process (like, if at all):

In difficult situations like this, we as a nation must ask ourselves one simple question: is our children learning — not to cheat?

Dad criticized for suing school over cheating incident [ABC 7]
Parents sue district for kicking son out of Sequoia High honors class for cheating [Mercury News]

Earlier: Kid Posts Take Home Exam Question On Message Board Looking For Answers, Finds Only Ridicule

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