A letter to Caldwell County High School seniors from Superintendent Nate Huggins published Wednesday in the Princeton Times Leader was taken almost verbatim from a letter written last month by a superintendent in Georgia.
Huggins sent a retraction to The Times Leader late Wednesday night.
“I failed to give credit to the person I obtained the words of wisdom noted in the majority of this article,” the superintendent wrote to the newspaper. “They were from Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett of Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools.
“For this I apologize and need to set the record straight. I don’t apologize for the article, however, I should have given credit to Dr. Levett. The words I used said exactly what I wanted to say and I could have not said it any better than what Dr. Levett said in her article.”
The plagiarism came to light Wednesday when someone apparently did an online search for pieces of text from Huggins’ letter and found similar wording in Levett’s letter.
Huggins admitted to copying from the letter, and said he should have credited Levett for her 991-word address.
The duplication drew attention almost immediately on social media, as word of the plagiarism spread from page to page on Facebook among Caldwell County residents Wednesday.
One page drawing attention was that of Jordan Dunn, called “Jordan Done.”
In a message to The Times Leader, Dunn wrote of Huggins, “In one of his (messages through the One Call Now broadcast messaging system), he put out to everyone he mentioned that the pandemic wasn’t a ‘free-pass’ and that students still had to finish their work to move on. I think his rule should apply to himself.”
Levett’s letter was posted April 17 to her official Facebook page and was a stirring address encouraging her district’s seniors to persevere through the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I remain inspired by the acts of kindness and compassion that I have seen throughout our school community,” Levett states in the letter. “… Your hard work has not gone unnoticed and will not be forgotten. You join a nation of youth who will graduate under the shadow of a global pandemic. But, I know you are stronger for it, you are wiser for it and you are kinder for it.“
Huggins told The Times Leader that he found the letter while searching for letters involving COVID-19 and was inspired by Levett’s message.
“I was looking for articles that other superintendents were putting out about COVID-19,” he said. “I saw an article from a Georgia superintendent that hit all the marks. … I think every senior in the United States should read it; that’s how impressed I was when I read it.
“What I did wrong is I didn’t include her name in the article.”
Huggins sent Levett a letter of apology Wednesday night after someone revealed to him that they found the duplication.
“(Levett) accepted my apology, and I provided that to the Board of Education (Thursday) afternoon,” he said. “(The board) understood that, but they said, ‘You are the leader of the district. You’ve got to always watch your p’s and q’s.’ They saw it was a mistake.
“When I make a mistake, I own up to it, and this was a mistake. I should have cited her as a reference, and I didn’t.”
School Board Chairman Tim Kennaday declined to comment on the matter.
Huggins’ email to Levett read, “On the 17th of April I read the article you posted to your school district. I was truly touched by the message you gave to the students in your school district. Your article is by far the best article I have read in my 22 years in education. I used your article in our local paper for our graduating class and failed to give you credit for the message you wrote. I am truly sorry that I failed to mention your name and hopefully you can forgive me. I contacted the local paper last evening to correct my shortcomings.”
Levett responded, “I certainly accept your apology. There is no need for a call. Please offer my best to your senior class. I trust all will go well with your graduation activities.”
Huggins said he should have begun the article with a paragraph giving credit for the remarks to Levett, then added his own comments to Caldwell County seniors.
“If I had done that, there wouldn’t be any calls about this,” he said.
Huggins sent a message Thursday afternoon through One Call to all Caldwell County School District students and explained that he didn’t present the message properly by omitting credit to Levett.
Editor’s note: The superintendent’s letter has been removed from the Class of 2020 graduation section appearing again today inside The Times Leader.