Toronto school board head resigns, plagiarism allegations grow
National Post and Globe and Mail report instances of alleged plagiarism
The man who was brought in to turn around Canada's largest school board has resigned "with a profoundly heavy heart" after admitting to plagiarizing material for a newspaper article.
Chris Spence, who was appointed director of education for the Toronto District School Board in 2009, handed in his resignation on Thursday — 24 hours after issuing an apology for plagiarizing a large part of an article published in the Toronto Star. The article has since been removed from the newspaper's website.
"It is with great sadness and regret that I am writing to tender my resignation as director of education for the Toronto District School Board," Spence said in his resignation letter.
"I have come to this decision after a great deal of reflection, and no small amount of consultation with family, friends and colleagues. I do so with a profoundly heavy heart."
Spence, 50, said he doesn't "wish to be a further distraction to the trustees, or my many friends and colleagues at the Toronto District School Board. I therefore submit my letter of resignation and, once again, offer my sincerest apologies."
Chris Bolton, chair of the TDSB said he had accepted Spence's resignation "effective immediately."
The current deputy director, Donna Quan, was appointed Thursday afternoon as the interim director of education.
New allegations of plagiarism
But even as the statements concerning the resignation were being distributed, more allegations of plagiarism surfaced on Thursday, though it is unclear if those new claims had any impact on Spence's decision to step down from his job.
Bolton, who will now lead the search for Spence's replacement, spent the day in meetings trying to figure out what to do about the scandal.
Finding one of the country's highest-profile educators admitting to plagiarism put the board in an untenable position.
"As the director, the expectation is very high. So it's actually more incumbent than it is on anybody else. I mean, we're supposed to be setting the example for the system," he told CBC News.
Bolton said the board had spent part of Wednesday night meeting to discuss what to do in the wake of Spence's admission that he plagiarized a number of passages for an opinion piece about sports and extracurricular activities he wrote for the Toronto Star last weekend.
Bolton said the board's trustees met with lawyers to discuss options.
'I have not set a good or proper example'
Spence acknowledged in his resignation letter that he had failed in setting an example.
He wrote that his "life's work has been education, and the education of young people. More than anything else, I regret that I have not set a good or proper example for the many thousands of young people I've been privileged to meet and know."
Spence's decision to resign came as the National Post revealed on Thursday what appear to be several other instances of plagiarism, including one opinion piece about the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Spence relays an anecdote about talking about the shooting with his 10-year-old son that is very similar to an account published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The National Post report also outlines other cases in which Spence appeared to have used passages seemingly appropriated from a variety of sources.
Bolton said he was aware of the new reports of plagiarism, and had informed the other trustees about it.
Late Thursday night the Globe and Mail reported that portions of Spence's PhD dissertation also contains unattributed material.
For his part, Spence — a former CFL player — said he intends to "continue to do the things I pledged to do — to restore my reputation, and to uphold the academic integrity I consider to be so important. But most importantly, to make amends for what I have done."
Spence was hired after a long search for someone to breathe new life into the TDSB, sort out its financial problems and deal with the myriad of problems that exist in the country's largest school board with students who come from every corner of the world.
"We hired him, we had expectations for him, in terms of being the persona for the Toronto District School Board. And that had worked out really well before last Saturday," said Bolton.