School Staffer Who Mocked Student Spelling 'Tammarow' on Twitter Lacked District Guidance

The Frederick, Maryland, public school district places such a heightened level of importance on social media that they have a staff position dedicated to social media management. However, after their social media manager, Katie Nash, responded to a student’s request to “close school tammarow” with, “but then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow‘? :)” the district might be re-thinking its social media use altogether.

The lighthearted attempt at a spelling lesson inspired an onslaught of criticism accusing the school district of promoting “cybershaming.” That accusation is up for serious debate that most likely will not occur despite a number of families coming to Nash’s defense. Because a buzz word associated with harassment, intimidation and bullying was thrown into the conversation, Nash, a non-teacher, was quickly and easily fired from her job as “Web Experience Coordinator” in the district’s Communication Services department.

According to the district’s website, the Web Experience Coordinator falls into a department devoted to marketing. That’s right, a public school district has dedicated a team of nine staff members tasked with the mission of “…promot[ing] student achievement by engaging families and community members in our schools, building pride in and support for public education, facilitating effective internal and public communication, and recognizing employee excellence.” Other titles in the department indicate that the district actively pursues business partnerships, community engagement, and marketing. All of these are non-teaching positions presumably funded by tax dollars.

Social media engagement between school staff and students has become a hot-button issue over the past few years. Normally viewed within the context of the teacher-student relationship, human resources professionals have had to address everything from a staff member’s social media profile and visibility to what they are doing with their social media accounts. In New Jersey alone, one teacher was suspended for a year for mocking a student’s name on Facebook while another lost her job for referring to her 1st grade students as “future criminals” on Facebook. Most school districts are scrambling to generate appropriate social media policies and procedures, something Frederick Public Schools had yet to do according to the New York Daily News report:

[Nash] said she hadn’t received much guidance on how to handle the Twitter account in the first place and wasn’t approached after the incident, except to be asked not to tweet anymore.

Nash’s job paid $45,000/year yet lacked specific procedural guidelines, despite the fact that social media has gotten more than one district in hot water over the past few years. If anything, her harmless tweet illustrates a huge failure on the part of school administration to appropriately address the elephant in the room that is social media management. What makes this failure even more humiliating for the district is the fact that they have an entire department devoted specifically to communications management.

Along with the complete lack of policy regarding social media, this case also raises the question of whether or not non-certificated staff members should have direct contact with students, however seemingly benign. Teachers, educational services professionals (like guidance counselors) and administrators are all certified to work with students. Staff members are not. Therefore, was it even within Nash’s purview to directly communicate with a student? Should she even legally have been tasked with that responsibility?

How the district continues with their social media remains to be seen, as they have yet to post for the position. For now, the incident should set off serious alarm bells within the academic community to generate policies and procedures that specifically address how social media should be used by school districts and their employees.