Johnson-less NHUHSD Board Accepts Apology, Citizens Don’t

Thursday, August 1, 2013
NHUHSD staff and four-fifths of its board – not including the subject of the meeting, Dan Johnson, who would have occupied the seat on the right – in the AHS Multipurpose Room. KLH Eye

NHUHSD staff and four-fifths of its board – not including the subject of the meeting, Dan Johnson, who would have occupied the empty seat on the right – in the AHS Multipurpose Room. KLH Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

ARCATA – Six weeks after delivering a plagiarized commencement address at the Arcata High School graduation ceremony, NHUHSD Boardmember Dan Johnson responded last week with a written statement of apology.

Johnson didn’t attend a Friday meeting of the high school district’s Board of Trustees which had been specially called to address the issue and take comments from citizens.

As attendees filtered in, they looked around for the subject of the meeting, who was not present. “Where is he?” said one man. “I don’t know,” replied another, adding a rhetorical plea to the absent Johnson, “Come on, coach.”

Board President Mike Pigg called the meeting to order and read aloud Johnson’s statement, including a cover letter to boardmembers.

Johnson’s statement includes an explanation for “an issue that has been made” of his repurposing of Wellesley High School teacher David McCullough, Jr.’s famous “You Are Not Special” commencement speech, but billing it as a letter he had written to his daughter.

Johnson apologizes for not giving proper attribution. He says his real message was, “achievement is based on results, and results are what is most valued.”

The embattled boardmember concludes with a volley at critics: “I understand that for some in our community – the self-appointed referees of good and evil – no explanation or apology I can offer is good enough. But I’m comfortable in the knowledge that their intolerance, so readily on display, is a far more profound flaw than mine.”

“I know we’re here on July 26, finally addressing the issue,” Pigg said. He said staff vacations had contributed to the delay in convening the board to respond.

Johnson’s sympathizers were few in number – four, to be exact – and they were all members of the NHUHSD board.

“I think he’s a very good boardmember. I think he made a mistake. We all make mistakes. He’s now apologized for that mistake and I’d like to see us move on.”

Pigg said the graduation ceremony had been “great,” but that “there might have been an error not crediting someone in a speech… It’s unfortunate that Dan made the speech that he did.”

He stressed that attribution is important for students in their homework and on the student newspaper, The Pepperbox. “They need to acknowledge people when they write stuff,” Pigg said.

Pigg called Johnson’s statement “long overdue,” but said that “I accept Dan’s speech, and hope that you can accept Dan’s speech – faculty, staff, students – and that we can move on from here and get back to taking care of the Northern Humboldt School District.”

“He didn’t realize it was plagiarism,” said Boardmember Dana Silvernale. “I think that Dan is learning from this. It was a huge embarrassment and humiliation for him, and I think that’s enough.” She said the statement “represents him well and honestly.”

“I accept Dan’s apology,” said Boardmember Dan Collen. He praised Johnson for providing a “great deal of leadership” on the board. “I think he’s a very good boardmember,” Collen said. “I think he made a mistake. We all make mistakes. He’s now apologized for that mistake and I’d like to see us move on.”

“We have done everything that we could, legally” said Boardmember Colleen Toste and that the board can’t force its will on an individual boardmember. She noted that school resumes one month from the date of the meeting, and that much work needs doing to prepare for the new school year and the district’s 1,700 students. “I would really like us to look forward and move forward as well,” Toste said.

Citizen assessments were not so indulgent for the errant, absent boardmember. Several acknowledged his many efforts on behalf of the schools and community, but said that didn’t give him license to plagiarize or castigate critics.

Harriet Watson, teacher and parent of two students who heard Johnson’s speech, didn’t contest his service or contributions to the district. “That doesn’t excuse this serious reach of ethics,” she said. “It’s not just that he didn’t credit Mr. McCullough, he said, ‘I wrote this. These are my words for you.’ That’s even more egregious… I don’t think Mr. Johnson should continue to serve on the school board.”

“Hiding under a rock for six weeks and then insulting the community is not my idea of taking responsibility for his mistake.”

AHS history teacher Doug Johnson said Johnson’s precedent will complicate his ability to take students to task for similar offenses.

Larry Green found the apology wanting. “The assumption that the intolerance of his critics is greater error than his own is an indication that he thinks the teacher is to blame for a student not getting a good grade,” he said.

Mary Ann Madej said the scandal was being watched outside of Humboldt County, especially by students. She faulted Johnson for not immediately apologizing and taking responsibility. “We have to teach our students to be honest and take responsibility for their mistakes,” she said, urging Johnson to do the same.

Madej said she was “insulted” by his  apology, “that my caring about integrity in the students is considered intolerance.” Continued Madej, “Hiding under a rock for six weeks and then insulting the community is not my idea of taking responsibility for his mistake.”

“The only course of action I see is resignation,” said Brian Lovell. “I think you could encourage him to resign. It’s the only way to solve your problem.” He said Johnson’s accusatory apology “blamed the victim.”

Parent Nick Applemans called for the board to support teachers in enforcing educational standards, which are undermined by giving Johnson a pass on his conduct.

“There’s no question that this is an issue that’s bigger than what you are acknowledging,” he said.

Applemans said character can’t be taught, but must be modeled, and that the board had to provide a suitable example for students.

Retired teacher Kathryn Hungerford found Johnson’s apology “disingenuous.” She said he and the school shouldn’t tolerate plagiarism and idea theft, and that his lack of awareness didn’t let him out of his responsibilities as a school board member. “He sought this position n the school board, Hungerford said. “He must be held to the same standard as the students… He must not be retained on the school board.”

AHS graduate Shea Lignitz applied Johnson’s own message to the situation. “As Mr. Johnson so blatantly pointed out, none of us are special, so why is he?”

AHS senior Nora Lovell thanked Johnson “for teaching me that the rich and powerful can get away with stuff.”

She called his singling out his daughter for attention at the graduation was “a breach of ethics,” since the graduation was supposed to honor all students. “I no longer believe he is a suitable figure to represent the district,” she said.

Retired teacher Steve Irwin asked the board if it would accept the excuses Johnson offered from students who might make the same mistake. “I wonder if you have thought about changing your policies regarding plagiarism so it won’t be such a big deal,” Irwin asked. He humorously suggested that teachers be retrained to be “more tolerant of lying and cheating. It seems to me that’s the direction you’re suggesting.”

Student Grace Lovell said the commencement speech wasn’t appropriate. “As a student, what I see is a wealthy man with a lot of money, power and influence getting away with something because he is ‘well intentioned.’”

She said his apology was “covered in excuses,” and that that’s not an apology to me.”

AHS senior Nora Lovell thanked Johnson “for teaching me that the rich and powerful can get away with stuff.”

AHS English teacher Joanne Moore said she had attended the June 25 board meeting and waited for the board or Johnson to address the matter. “Nothing was said,” she noted. “Your excuses about timing ring hollow to me.” She said Johnson’s apology wasn’t adequate.

Other speakers continued the same themes, castigating Johnson both for the stolen speech and the harsh apology. Several cast the board as complicit in supporting privilege and undermining academic integrity.

“It will be a drag on this institution for as long as he is a member,” said retired teacher Allan Edwards.

The board ultimately voted 4–0 to accept Johnson’s apology. The acceptance doesn’t necessarily constitute endorsement.

Superintendent Chris Hartley suggested that the board develop a specific prohibition against plagiarism, and develop standards for boardmember conduct as well as commencement ceremony policies.

The board then voted to form a subcommittee to do just that. The district will establish “protocols for approved academic and ethical standards for all communications.”

It will review gradation ceremony standards, including boardmember participation, and develop a “Board Governance Handbook” to clearly define the trustees’ duties.

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5 Responses to “Johnson-less NHUHSD Board Accepts Apology, Citizens Don’t”

  1. Are we still talking about this? Is this really our news…talking about the mistake of a good community member as if we have not made any ourselves. I recall an incident Mr. Kevin Hoover had with a coworker of mine years ago where he too had to make an apology. We readily accepted his apology because it was just a mistake. Why then do you Kevin Hoover not have the same forgiveness for others as we had for you? Fortunately for you, your mistake was not out there in the public as Dan’s was. If it was maybe an article could be written about your imperfections.

    For those who continually talk about the time frame it took Dan to give an apology…have you thought that maybe he was busy “doing” things that matter in life instead of talking about things that don’t.

    We have a community full of people who focus on the downfalls of others so they feel better about themselves. How about we all just worry about ourselves since that is the only way we can really make any change in this world. I am amazed at how many people have nothing better to do. Take a look in the mirror and I bet you could find something more important to worry about.

  2. Ian Ray

    Another tu quoque fallacy?

    There are some tests on this argumentation and critical thinking site which may prevent further fallacious arguments:

  3. Kevin Hoover

    It's true. I've apologized plenty of times. So have you, Danika. So has Barack Obama. So, I imagine, has David McCullough, Jr.

    So therefore, I shouldn't write a news story about a public meeting? Is that what you're saying?

    If your contention is that because a reporter has apologized at some point, news shouldn't be reported, say so. But please, explain the logical connection between those events.

  4. Kevin Hoover

    Ian Ray Tu Quoque is the superstar of this controversy.

  5. […] because the principal and superintendent were afraid of insulting a wealthy benefactor, and finally covered Johnson’s crappy and belated August 1st apology, pointing out said […]


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