Idaho Teen's Intentional Plagiarism Schools Elected Official On Ethics

Dec 23, 2014

An Idaho high school senior made waves earlier this month for a pointed editorial taking aim at Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Sherri Ybarra.

Harmony Soto, 17, decided to plagiarize Boise Weekly writer George Prentice after Ybarra narrowly won November's election -- even after Ybarra was accused of plagiarizing her opponent's campaign website.

Soto, with Prentice's permission, wanted her editorial to show Idaho's elected officials and voters that young people are paying attention to the political process.

"The main point I really wanted to make is -- if I  were to attempt it in a school project or essay, I would be reprimanded -- I'd get in serious trouble," Soto says. "And then to see someone in charge of our schools get away with it -- with so much of a 'Oh I'm sorry I did this,' - it was not pleasing."

This is the Editor's Note that ran with Soto's Dec. 2 piece. Click the image to enlarge.

Soto's school newspaper advisor Michelle Harmon says if a writer is caught plagiarizing, they're kicked off the Borah Senator staff.

"When Harmony pitched the story idea to me I was skeptical," Harmon says. But Soto came to the pitch meeting with a plan, preemptively checking off each of Harmon's doubts.

"I'm so impressed with people like Harmony -- and there's more Harmony's out there in high school -- and not to discount them, and not to think they're not part of the political process because they are," Harmon says. She took her own natural talents, put it into writing and made such an impact."

Soto, who is one of the editors of the Borah Senator, hasn't heard from Ybarra or any member of the Idaho Department of Education since her editorial was printed Dec. 2.

Soto admits if she were to speak with Ybarra she'd feel intimidated, but would deliver a clear message on behalf of her classmates.

"I guess I would just say that you have to live up to the examples you set for your students," Soto says. "If you don't, then -- why are you here?"

Find Emilie Ritter Saunders on Twitter @emiliersaunders

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