School Superintendent Resigns Over Plagiarism Allegations

In Rochester, MN, The Rochester Public School Board has accepted the resignation of Superintendent Michael Muñoz following a series of plagiarism allegations against him and his work for the school district.

The story began shortly after Thanksgiving 2020 when a parent of a student in the school district noticed that a letter Muñoz had sent expressing his gratitude to faculty, staff and parents of the school district was heavily plagiarized.

Muñoz apologized for the plagiarism and the school board decided to suspend him for five days without pay, costing him $4,390 in lost salary.

However, last week more allegations of plagiarism were brought against Muñoz. At issue were both his 2019 and 2020 graduation speeches, an April 2020 letter to parents and a September 2020 tweet.

Muñoz did not immediately respond to those allegations though the school board did promise to take up the issue at their February 2nd meeting.

That meeting has now happened, and the school board voted unanimously to accept Muñoz’s resignation, which is effective June 30, 2021. The goal of the much later resignation is to give the school board time to find a new superintendent and allow Muñoz to oversee critical budget, finance and staffing issues for the 2021 school year.

In a statement, Muñoz said, “I first want to apologize for making choices that have set a poor example for our students and have caused a distraction from our mission.”

The resignation ends a lengthy and unnecessary ordeal for the school district. Hopefully, it will serve as a warning for others that might be tempted to take Muñoz’s shortcuts.

A Wholly Unnecessary Ordeal

To be clear, nothing about this story was necessary of unavoidable.

Muñoz had no need and no reason to plagiarize the content in the first place. Though we can offer some sympathy for schools that copy/paste difficult letters that are unusual for them, that describes none of Muñoz’s plagiarisms.

Graduation speeches, thank you letters and tweets are all things that should be normal and even basic for a superintendent. Assuming Muñoz is a competent administrator up to the task of being a superintendent, those are all things he is capable of. It was his choice not to and his choice to take unethical shortcuts.

Furthermore, when the first instance of plagiarism was detected, he had the opportunity to clear the air completely and discuss how this was a normal writing process for him. It may have meant the loss of his job, but it would have shortened this entire story by months.

While it’s unclear if he intended for any kind of evaluation of his prior work to be a part of his “public restorative practices plan” that he was working on with two board members, he had to have known that there were other instances of plagiarism, and that they would be found out sooner or later.

Simply put, Muñoz is not an administrator that was out of his depth and made a bad decision or two. He made repeated bad decisions to plagiarize and compounded those decisions by not coming clean when he had the easy chance.

Bottom Line

If anything positive comes from Muñoz’s story, it’s that it should serve as a warning for others that may be tempted to take similar shortcuts. This is a reminder that plagiarism can always be found out.

While I would hope that there isn’t a slew of other superintendents committing acts of plagiarism, if there are, I would hope this gives them pause.

In short, there’s no era of one’s career where plagiarism is acceptable or won’t be punished. Muñoz’s story illustrates that very well.

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