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Extensive Plagiarism Detected in Flagler School Board Candidate Maria Barbosa’s Interview

| August 4, 2014

Many parts of Maria Barbosa's FlaglerLive interview appear to have been cut and pasted from other websites--and in one case, from a previous FlaglerLive interview on this website. (Feppa/Flickr)

Many parts of Maria Barbosa’s FlaglerLive interview appear to have been cut and pasted from other websites–and in one case, from a previous FlaglerLive interview on this website. (Feppa/Flickr)

Under the Flagler County schools’ Student Code of Conduct, plagiarism, defined as the “willful or deliberate unauthorized use of the work of another person,”  is a Level II offense—“acts of misconduct that are more serious” than Level I offenses, and that may lead to out-of-school suspension, mediation or other forms of intervention. Repeated Level II offenses may lead to more serious consequences.

Maria Pinto-Barbosa, a candidate for Flagler County School Board in the District 1 race, last week provided FlaglerLive with answers to her candidate interview, as have all but one of the eight candidates running for school board. An analysis of Barbosa’s answers showed repeated, extensive and unequivocal instances of plagiarism from numerous sources on the web, including About.com, Harvard University, education white papers, and other candidates for school board, including, in one case, a passage lifted from a “State of Education” address by her opponent in the race, Andy Dance. Another line was cribbed from Flagler School Board member Colleen Conklin’s FlaglerLive interview two years ago.


Out of 15 questions, at least 14 instances of plagiarism were detected in an analysis, which may not have detected all instances. The analysis included the verification of individual sentences through Google and the crunching of all interview answers through a plagiarism checker. (See the full interview and the documented cases of plagiarism here.)

Barbosa, who had responded by email to one round of follow-up questions in the interview,  before the instances of plagiarism were detected, did not respond to repeated calls to her cell phone or emails informing her about the uncovered plagiarism and asking her for an explanation on Saturday and Sunday. An attempt was made to contact her through Barbosa’s colleague at the Flagler-Palm Coast Kiwanis Club, where Barbosa is president-elect. That attempt failed, too.

Early Monday morning, Barbosa emailed: “I did misplace my phone, today I’m getting a new one.” But she insisted she committed no plagiarism. “Some of your question needed some data and true facts to reinforce my point of view,” she wrote. “I did research for data and facts to be able to back up my point of view. That doesn’t mean I plagiarized answers from other websites.”

Barbosa describes herself on her campaign website as a clinical Christian counseling specialist, an entrepreneur with 25 years’ experience in “small and big businesses-restaurants and retail stores, 14 years as a property manager and seven years as a non-profit consultant. She served on the school district’s superintendent search committee last year, and has served on other local advisory boards. 

maria barbosa flagler county school board candidate 2014

Maria Barbosa

Given the ease of access to online sources, the Flagler school district has made plagiarism checks routine, exposing students as early as middle school to plagiarism tutorials and, in the case of many teachers in high school, requiring that papers be checked through such plagiarism-verification sites as Turnitin.com.

At FlaglerLive, candidates’ answers are accepted on the candidates’ pledge that, aside from proof-reading or light editing from a spouse or another helper, the answers to the Live Interview are the candidate’s own. Candidates answer the written questions in writing, continuing up with one or two rounds of follow-up questions.

After Barbosa submitted her responses to follow-up questions, a second round of editing led to a closer look at the text after an answer contained syntax and phraseology that appeared out of context with other responses. One of those sentences was run through a Google search, which led to an article for the Harvard Family Research Project, from which entire passages were lifted. In a three-part answer, two of the three parts turned out to have been substantially lifted from that article.

Once that instance of plagiarism was detected, all of Barbosa’s responses were processed through a web-based plagiarism-checker, which then led to additional instances. Further follow-up questions were not sent, pending Barbosa’s answers to questions about the plagiarism.

A question toward the beginning of the interview asks Barbosa to describe the scope of a school board member’s job as she understands it. “The school board,” she replied, “can be considered the governing body of a school district. They are the only elected officials within an individual school district that have a say in the daily operations of the school district. School board member decisions do matter. Poor decisions can lead to ineffectiveness, but good decisions will improve the overall quality of the schools.” The entire answer is taken nearly word for word from the introduction to “A Guide to Becoming a School Board Member,” by Derrick Meador, the Teaching Guide on About.com.

In a question about the strengths and weaknesses of the district, Barbosa provided a long answer, most of which was borrowed from at least three other school board candidates—in Washington State, Virginia and Broward County—whose web pages had gone up either months or more than a year before Barbosa’s.

In education, plagiarism is considered a cardinal sin, with many a career derailed because of the offense. Politicians’ careers are often damaged, usually not fatally, by revelations of plagiarism: Joe Biden ended his bid for the presidency in 1988 after his unattributed repetition of a speech by a British political leader came to light. But he kept his Senate seat and went on to be Barack Obama’s vice president 20 years later. Last month, Montana Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat appointed to the seat, with high hopes of retaining it in November, saw his electoral fortunes darken when The New York Times revealed that a quarter of his master’s thesis at the United States Army War College was lifted and unattributed from other sources.

The Flagler County School Board had a very public plagiarism controversy nine years ago. Then-School Board Candidate Jim Guines brought to the board’s attention that the district’s mission-statement-like list of principles, which had been published in small pocket-size fold-outs and nicknamed the “bus pass,” had been lifted from the Ritz-Carlton’s “Gold Standard,” without attribution.

The pass was the idea of then-Superintendent Robert Corley, who had attended a conference at a Ritz-Carlton before producing the pass. For a time Corley defended the document, saying the hotel chain had given permission to use the text but asked that it not be attributed. But the controversy grew, with one board meeting drawing 100 people after Guines had publicly denounced the superintendent’s actions, according to the News-Journal at the time.

The school board eventually had the document reworked. “This is not for the sake of the administration, the teachers, the superintendent or school board,” Conklin said at the time, in comments reported by the News-Journal. “This is for the sake of students that we have to be a role model to. Whether we got permission or not, we did not cite it properly.”

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36 Responses for “Extensive Plagiarism Detected in Flagler School Board Candidate Maria Barbosa’s Interview”

  1. John Smallberries says:

    Considering the environment of education here in flagler, I think this one is the most obvious choice.

  2. tulip says:

    Bye bye Barbosa

  3. KMedley says:

    English courses, as far back as I remember, especially Honors English Courses, teach how to properly cite any text, tables, or additional data required to provide further explanation for one’s thesis. Both ENC1101 and ENC1102, taught at Daytona State College, provide instruction for MLA citation. Classes required to obtain either an Associate in Arts Degree and/or Bachelor’s Degree require either MLA or APA citation; and, some courses, especially those taught by Professor Nancy Duke, require Chicago Style citation formatting. Many websites, including Purdue Owl, provide extensive information in order to learn how to properly cite borrowed work(s). This woman has a degree. Citing is not a foreign concept. Quoting an author’s work, along with the proper citation, can lend the credibility a paper requires; however, to simply copy and paste, without any acknowledgement for someone else’s work, speaks to an apathetic and listless attempt to dazzle the masses.

    • w.ryan says:

      So she’s not as shroud as these professional politicians. Shame on her! Frankly, can anyone do better in a school board member position than what has been perpetrated? I think so! To her demise Rand Paul she is not. I’ve spoken with her a few times and she seems very bright. Unfortunately this has come to light and she is now being tenderized.

  4. A.S.F. says:

    She’s full of…um…very sound Christian principles.

  5. Franklin's Tower says:

    Oh gosh and golly. We’re talking local school board here. I admit, I am totally ignorant of the local school board candidates. Both my kids are up north and both are way past public school age. However, if she did not lie about qualifications, it’s not a cardinal sin. The big question is does she grasp the job, did she grasp the content of her answers? If she did, it was a learning experience. If not, she was a parrot in this instance. Is she a busy adult juggling responsibilities? Is she lazy? Did she think it was okay and did not think someone would run her comments thru software? Only the candidate knows. Tell you what though, a headline like that and the damage it could do her personally and professionally, I would not have done that.

    • Nancy N. says:

      “The big question is does she grasp the job”

      Obviously not…since one of the board’s jobs is to enforce the district’s plagiarism policy and she is busy committing it herself. How can she set policy – and enforce it – if she has no understanding or regard for the concept herself?

    • Kendall says:

      She clearly does not “grasp” the ethics and moral fortitude required of an elected official, especially one that is helping to plot the course for our children to achieve academic success.

      I’m still curious where she received her PhD and how she can be a mental health counselor without being registered with the Florida Department of Health.

  6. Edgar Allen Poe-tator says:

    Well, this is Flagler County, right ? So what’s your point ?

  7. Genie says:

    I’m disappointed, I was leaning towards voting for her. I’m afraid I can’t do that now. We cannot have our school board breaking the rules our children are expected to follow.

    Our kids deserve better.

  8. Jack Howell says:

    Pathetic! Thanks Flaglerlive, I don’t have to read her response. Good detective work. Ms. Barbosa, a leader (school board member) leads by example. What kind of example are you sending?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Ha ha ha hhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa ha ha. Any stooge can quickly detect if a paper is forged or copied but in Flagler, they DON’T.

    The stupid students are laughing at the school as they cheat themselves.

  10. John Smallberries says:

    Curiously enough, I see that she claims to have a doctorate in “christian counseling” and she’s written a few books that show up on amazon.com. I can’t seem to find out exactly where she got her doctorate from, though. I wonder if her doctoral thesis and her books are as rife with plagiarism as her responses were.

  11. Kendall says:

    Sharing the Facebook comment I posted earlier- I actually meant to post here-

    It’s hard to believe that as a person with a PhD Ms. Barbosa claims not to understand the implications of plagiarism and even harder to believe that her grammar, spelling and syntax is that of a person with advanced education. Out of curiosity I checked out her Linked-in profile and found that for education she lists UFC as the institution that awarded her a doctorate degree but lists no undergraduate school.

    A google search of UFC and doctorate and counseling net no results for a university. Curious, I went to the Floridahealth.gov website and conducted a license search to see where she obtained her degree. This is the agency that regulates various medical professions including marriage and family therapists, social workers, and psychologists. Guess what? No Maria Barbosa is listed. In fact, the only Barbosa listed in Palm Coast is a certified nurses assistant.

    So I’m even more curious. Does Ms. Barbosa have a real PhD? Is she licensed to operate as a mental health worker? How can we find out?

  12. Devrie says:

    Franklin, what she did was blatant plagiarism. She should know that. People on the school board should have a some kind of understanding on how to write, research, and articulate something without stealing the information.

    Plagiarism is serious. It’s theft. It’s theft of thought, creativity, and work. In some cases, it’s theft of money! With regard to school board members and their decision making skills, Derrick Meador, a school administrator who writes for About.com says, “Their decisions do matter and there is a definite trickle down effect. Poor decisions can lead to ineffectiveness, but good decisions will improve the overall quality of the school.”

    The decision to lift text from these here Internets without properly citing them implies she could potentially lead the board into chaos with poor decision making skills, and that could, “lead to ineffectiveness,” as Meador so eloquently said (without proper acknowledgement from Ms. Barbosa).

    We need more people with critical thinking skills involved in the various forms of governance of our social structures. If one cannot formulate a thought on her own from her research, how can we assess her critical thinking skills?

    Wowie!

  13. Stashu says:

    She lost me at the ” christian counseling specialist” . I don’t need a school board member fundraising for a right wing anti abortion pregnancy center. Imagine School at Town Center did that already in Kindergarten.
    This however reflects her total lack of intelligence. We may not be happy with the current members but they are certainly not worst than her.

  14. Nancy N. says:

    Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of this entire thing is that she copied from Andy Dance and Colleen Conklin – two people almost guaranteed to read her interview. Did she really think that they wouldn’t recognize their own words? That’s not just plagiarism, that’s downright stupid plagiarism.

  15. Will says:

    She did have the temerity to show up tonight for the candidate forum.

  16. It’s sad how the institutions involved are usually the losers and not the individuals like Barbosa who carry out the plagiarism itself. Maybe it’s time that educational institutions re-think the rules on plagiarism and respect the fact that with the ever growing amount of information available it is becoming more and more difficult to avoid it. Surely we should be judging people based on their ability to perform and not their ability to present.

    • Devrie says:

      Craig, it is not at all difficult to avoid plagiarism. If you are a thinking individual, and you do research, you are fully capable of reformulating other people’s ideas with your own to create something “fresh and new.” Furthermore, you are also fully capable of using someone else’s thoughts, whether you’ve quoted them or paraphrased them, with a citation or acknowledgment. Most professionals and students know not to plagiarize, and now with information so readily available, it is even more important to make people aware of what it is and how to avoid it.

      The people that write for About.com and other websites do it for a living. They get paid based on how many people visit those sites. So if people are using those same words on other websites, in daily life and other media outlets, those people who crafted those words lose income. Not only is plagiarism a theft–essentially a wrongdoing to someone else, but it is a sign of an inability to formulate a cohesive, independent thought. Beyond that, ethical behavior is paramount to building public trust. If a board member who is paid $37,000 a year is willing to cheat on an interview assignment, that member is failing the public trust.

      We want our kids to be free thinkers who are capable of following important rules and being respectful. When one copies entire sentences or paragraphs, she is defying all of those attributes.

      Perhaps Ms. Barbosa is a likable person with good intentions. Maybe some people want to look the other way because they really like her “newness.” She should well know the consequences of plagiarism, though. It’s lazy. It’s unethical.

  17. JtFlagler says:

    Where I come from (in NE Pa), school board members of course are elected too and put through an extensive check of their qualifications. They are mostly retired educators from that district, doctors, lawyers and others truly concerned about the quality of education of the students. Who did we know that? Simple! They were not compensated. They received no money to serve on the school board. That’s how it should be everywhere. Here it’s just another waste of taxpayers’ money feeding the pockets of the inept. Another way for easy money. If we adopted the volunteer school board, we would have a school board that truly cared.

  18. Rob says:

    Gee this is too bad.
    I wanted a viable candidate to vote for in order to get rid of this incumbent.
    All hope is not lost there are credible candidates to replace the other lackluster ones.

  19. ConcernedCitizen says:

    I’m so disgusted with her. Thank you FlaglerLive for your investigative reporting.

  20. Will says:

    What about Kendall’s comments above? What proof is there of a legitimate degree? I don’t want to be harsh, but it’s a valid question for someone claiming to have one.

  21. Joan says:

    My search has not come up with her educational background. Evidently she claims to have a phd and calls herself Dr.
    There seems to be a lot of speculation, but I cannot find verified specifics. Anyone know?

  22. Will says:

    If she has a Ph.D. degree but it’s not from an accredited university, what then? Full disclosure at the very least seems in order.

    If you’re reading, Dr. Maria Barbosa, you’re a good person, so please shine some light on the situation to clear up misunderstandings.

  23. Informed says:

    I couldn’t find a license for her either. It would be very easy for her to reveal her license # – that is public information. I think this is a very important question to have answered.

  24. FlaglerLive says:

    FlaglerLive requested from Barbosa that she produce proof of her master’s and doctoral degrees before the publication of this story. She said in an email that she would be doing so. She has not. FlaglerLive saw her at the candidate forum Monday evening and reminded her of the request. She offered to show images of the what looked like diplomas on her tablet. We asked her to email the documents. She said she would. She has not.

  25. Observant says:

    Licenses in florida can be looked up at https://ww2.doh.state.fl.us/IRM00PRAES/PRASLIST.ASP

    However I do not see any listed for Ms. Barbosa

  26. Informed says:

    How can the request for her license be made public outside of FlaglerLive? Scary thought that she may be practicing without one.

    • Will says:

      But what is she practicing? Counseling? Is a license needed for religious counseling? Is a license needed to preach, for that matter? I really don’t know.

  27. Mary says:

    Thanks to the internet we now know that Lincoln plagiarized his famous Gettysburg address from Pericles’ Funeral Oration.

    What’s her opponent’s qualifications – the guy who is all about increasing and endorsing tax hikes every opportunity he gets. Can Flagler afford these high priced school board members? An amendment should put it on the ballot to reduce the salaries of school board members to $5,000 annually. Why should they make the same salary as a new teacher?

  28. informed says:

    Anyone practicing anything in the mental health field-even social work needs to be licensed.

  29. Brad says:

    Trust is important in a School Board Member, this is not someone that can be trusted (or set the appropriate example for students) to be truly honest with tax payers, parents, and students.

    Andy Dance has done so much for our schools and is someone we truly need to continue in that position. He is not only the best candidate, he is the model of what all school board members should be.

  30. informed says:

    Just wondering if Barbosa has ever produced her license yet?

  31. 論文代寫 says:

    Plagiarism is a serious problem in all academic institutions, the only way to avoid them is to educate students than using punishments.

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