Minnesota Principal Suspended for Plagiarizing Tennessee Principal's Email

Plagiarism is one of the cardinal sins of academia, and a Minnesota school principal was handed a one-day suspension without pay for that exact transgression this winter, according to The Pioneer Press.

Three days before Christmas, Washington Technology Magnet School Principal Stacie Bonnick sent an email to her staff that contained a reflection on the changes pandemic-induced safety precautions had brought to public education. "The job has always been a challenge, but nothing prepared me for the stress of this year," she wrote in part, adding that she had found "moments of unexpected joy and success" amid the havoc.

However, one of the recipients was not convinced of Bonnick's sincerity. The prose of the email, they observed, differed starkly from the principal's standard writing style. The employee discovered that the text had been lifted from a semi-viral Dec. 17 Facebook post by a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based educator, East Side Elementary School Principal Greg Wilkey. The only difference between the two was the fact that the email included a sentence about Bonnick's son.

Bonnick began her career at St. Paul Public Schools as an elementary school teacher more than 25 years ago, according to her school bio. Her professional interests include literacy development, college and career readiness, and curriculum planning.

Plagiarism, which Merriam-Webster defines as to "use (another's production) without crediting the source," has featured prominently in several recent major political scandals. In 2017, then-French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was accused of plagiarizing a former rival's speech. In 2019, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was accused of plagiarizing a post on a legal blog. More recently, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris shared an anecdote that some thought had an uncanny similarity to one shared by civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.

The day after discovering Wilkey's post, the employee presented St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard with their findings.

"When I read this, it didn't seem like their usual script, which is typically of poor academic quality. With a quick Google search I was able to find that this was actually not her job and the whole thing was plagiarized by another headmaster in another state," the employee wrote in an email they provided to the Pioneer Press.

When Bonnick's supervisor and a human resources investigator confronted Bonnick, she admitted to plagiarizing the post in the email and a January newsletter issued to families, according to the Press. In the newsletter, Bonnick wrote, "Schools are so much more than just academics. Schools are places where people are loved, feel safe, and are cared for. Educators offer more than teaching and learning. We are sources of stability and calm during storms."

Bonnick was handed a one-day suspension without pay. She served it on Feb. 5.

"I am at odds with how I feel. On the one hand, I am honored that my words and reflections resonated enough with someone to share. I was always ready to share my thoughts with the public," Wilkey told the Press on Tuesday. "I know that whenever I post or share on a public platform, there is always a risk that my words will be used. I regret that the headmaster in question did not simply give her due credit, but at the same time I have no ill will towards her."

The Press reached out to Bonnick about the incident but had not heard back as of the time of publication.

A school bus drives through Brooklyn.
A school bus drives through Brooklyn in November 2020. Minnesota school principal Stacie Bonnick recently served a one-day suspension without pay for plagiarizing another principal's Facebook post. Spencer Platt/Getty Images