To read the disputed material, go to www.

Second St. Francis school board member accused of plagiarism

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • January 16, 2013 - 6:52 PM

It is a story apparently worth repeating, much to the chagrin of the St. Francis school board.

A month after a St. Francis school board member was ousted for plagiarism, the board's new chairwoman has been accused of the same thing. But Amy Kelly said Wednesday she never claimed credit for the child's tale she told in her column for a school district newsletter, published 16 months ago.

"This is a famous story that I've loved since hearing it as a child," Kelly, 49, said of the tale of a boy who threw a starfish back into the ocean.

"It appears somebody has a vendetta against me," Kelly said. "How else do you explain a column that I wrote in August of 2011 becoming such a big deal now?"

When first-term Board Member Matthew Rustad admitted plagiarizing a column he'd written last September for the north metro school district's newsletter, Kelly was among the board's most critical members, said Board Member Marsha Van Denburgh.

Van Denburgh said she did not think Rustad was treated fairly. Another board member, Suzanne Erkel, also supported Rustad and said last month that the issue was "overblown."

It was Erkel who last week called for a special board meeting to discuss plagiarism allegations against Kelly -- after Van Denburgh said a plagiarism-checking Internet site calculated that Kelly's column was "67 percent" plagiarized.

"I'm not saying she should resign or be removed," Van Denburgh said of Kelly. "I wasn't in favor of the way the last case was decided. But we have set a precedent."

Kelly's case will be heard at the Jan. 28 school board meeting.

She began her column 16 months ago, saying she welcomed back the school district staff on Aug. 31, 2011. "I shared a story called "The Starfish," Kelly wrote. "I would like to share it with you as well."

She described "The Starfish" on Wednesday as an "often-told story" about people who try to make a difference. She said she got the idea to repeat it after reading about the story on a website. She did not attribute the starfish story, which in its original form was written by Loren Eiseley in his book "The Unexpected Universe," published in 1969. She said she assumed others had heard it numerous times.

"It was delivered by Amy to welcome back the staff," said fellow Board Member David Anderson. "As she was reading it, I was trying to think how many times over the years I've heard this story.

"I've never heard anybody give proper credit to where it came from. It's a story with good meaning, but she never tried to portray that she wrote it."

The school district will allow the board to decide Kelly's fate, said David Lindberg, the district's human resources director.

In an e-mail sent to school board members on Tuesday, Lindberg pointed out that the story "has been reused and co-opted by many public speakers and authors since its inception, with or without proper attribution." He also wrote that if the board determines that Kelly's article amounts to plagiarism, the board must then decide whether that plagiarism was intentional.

"Amy has never claimed to have written the starfish story," said Lindberg.

Rustad was ousted for lying after he was caught plagiarizing, Lindberg said.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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