A lawsuit brought by the father of a student removed from the honors English class for cheating has Redwood City residents up in arms. Four students from Sequoia High School were transferred out of the class into a regular high school English class after they were caught sharing and copying each other’s homework. After the parents’ appeals to get them reinstated didn’t yield results, Jack Berghouse, the father of one of sophomore students, sued the district on the grounds that the removal can have material adverse effect on his son’s chances of getting into an Ivy League college.
After the San Jose Mercury News published the original story, reactions from readers were immediate — and almost universally negative towards the father’s actions, with many questioning the merit of the lawsuit itself.
“We should be able to take the consequences for our choices,” said Annalys Berraje, of Soquel. “I think it’s terrible that people wink at things that ultimately destroy the value of the character of the nation.”
Many felt that Berghouse’s actions set a bad example for both his son and his community by ignoring the implications of academic cheating. The thoughts of Pacifica’s Pat Martin were typical:
“The question might be what is more important: learning to do right or getting into the best school so they can get ahead?”
A chemistry teacher from West Valley College said that the punishment meted out to the students wasn’t harsh enough. Darrell Linthacum who at 82, still teaches at the Saratoga school said that he automatically fails students for cheating, and that he just recently caught someone doing so last semester, and gave them an F. Linthacum explained that he is nearly always lenient with those who show genuine effort, but has no patience for students taking advantage of unethical shortcuts. The story began when a sophomore was kicked out of the advanced class after he was caught cheating, the penalty that was outlined in the “Academic Honesty Pledge” signed both by the student at the commencement of the course, and by his mother.
According to the lawsuit, however, another school document states that a student will be removed from the program only after a second plagiarism offense. The boy’s father, Jack Berghouse, does not dispute that his son copied his English homework from another student, who also was kicked out of the honors class for the offense. But Berghouse said he believes the punishment is disproportionate to the offense and will jeopardize his son’s academic future.
The father further said that they were left with no other choice than to sue the district after several alternative punishments proposed by the parents were rejected by the school. In the district’s response to the lawsuit, the superintendent James Lianides admits that while there was a mention of an old “two-strikes” policy in an attachment to the pledge, the document itself was clear that any cheating infractions will result in immediate removal from the honors program.