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Bradford school trustee-elect accused of plagiarism

The Simcoe County District School Board says Debbie Connors is not officially a trustee until Dec. 1, so she is not bound by the board’s code of conduct.

A Simcoe County District School Board trustee is accusing a newly elected trustee representing Bradford West Gwillimbury of plagiarism.

Brandy Rafeek, who recently lost her seat as trustee for Adjala-Tosorontio and Essa townships in the Oct. 18 municipal election, said she a statement submitted to BradfordToday during the election by Debbie Connors was taken word for word from her own campaign materials.

“I spent a great deal of time writing and rewriting, and I find it pretty impossible to believe that anyone else came up with the exact same words,” said Rafeek.

Connors beat incumbent Donna Da Silva by 591 votes for the position of Simcoe County District School Board trustee for Bradford West Gwillimbury and New Tecumseth.

Before election day, Connors submitted the following statement to BradfordToday for an article about the trustee candidates: “Children’s time in school and the education that they receive has a huge influence on who they will become. Through public education, we have incredible opportunities to make positive changes in people’s lives. We have great potential as to what we can do for families. Done properly, education can be the great equalizer.”

Rafeek provided samples to BradfordToday of her own election materials containing the same paragraph, including a social media post dated Sept. 8, and a May 22 video of her presentation to the school board in which she said nearly the identical words.

“Debbie Connors has blatantly plagiarized me in this, and I am very upset,” said Rafeek, who, although defeated in the municipal election, will serve as trustee until the new board starts its term Dec. 1.

When contacted about Rafeek’s claim, Connors responded: “I do not know who this person is, or why she’s been harassing me. I already have contacted her to tell her that I had no idea about her campaign, but she keeps calling, emailing and messaging me on Facebook.”

Connors later told BradfordToday she “did have someone help me write some of my campaign for my website.”

“I used some of that for the newspaper article, but I never thought to check if anything was plagiarized. I truly did not do anything to her on purpose, as I did not even know who she was until yesterday, when she started calling and emailing me,” she said, calling it “truly (an) honest mistake.”

Rafeek acknowledged she contacted Connors, and that Connors had denied the charge of plagiarism.

“I find this hard to believe,” said Rafeek.

BradfordToday contacted the Simcoe County District School Board about the complaint. Asked if the board would investigate the complaint or take action, a communications officer initially stated that comments made during the election were not a matter for the board.

“We do not have anything further to add with regards to the complaint that came forward from a current trustee. We do have a Code of Conduct,” Sarah Kekewich, the board’s manager of communications, later wrote in an email.

Kekewich provided a link to the trustee code of conduct, a 12-page document. It does not contain any specific mention of plagiarism.

“The accusation is being made against an individual who is not a current trustee,” and, therefore, not bound by the Code of Conduct, added Kekewich.

“Although elected, the trustees do not begin their term until Dec. 1, 2018.”

Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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