As many students were coming back to school after the winter break, communities on the East Coast experienced their first real winter weather of the year. Ice and snow forecasts had students flushing ice cubes down the toilet, parents worried about childcare coverage, and school districts watching weather patterns like tornado hunters.
In Maryland, one student even went to social media to ask for time away from the little red schoolhouse, tweeting the Frederick County Public Schools to “close school tammarow PLEASE.”
Responding with the type of levity we expect to see on Twitter (at least when we aren’t experiencing vitriol), the school district’s social media coordinator tweeted back at the student, ““but then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow’?” So that no one would mistake her humor for snark, she closed the message with a smiley face emoji.
Now, according to The Washington Post, that social media coordinator has been fired. The termination came after the district demanded that she delete all that the district deemed as “inappropriate” tweets and after the system’s communications director issued a public apology to the FCPS student who can’t spell tomorrow.
Overreact much, Frederick County Public Schools?
Now Eduflack gets that the school system as worried about potential backlash. As a former school board chairman, I get that the district feared parents concerned students were being called stupid or were being mocked on social media and that is could become a “thing” at the next school board meeting. But this is Twitter, folks. It is designed for interaction and give and take. A student tweeting at his or her school district is expecting a response.
One has to only look at the tweets from the school district since the incident to understand that, while the system may think it has built a “model for the state” when it comes to social media, it just isn’t the case.
- “Schedule reminder: schools are closed on Monday, January 23rd.”
- “All FCPS activities are canceled for Saturday, Jan 14 due to weather forecasts.”
- “Academic Tournament continues with ‘Human Diseases’ as the special topic.”
- “Reminder: schools are closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day.” (one has to wonder if someone is getting suspended for leaving the “Jr.” off that tweet)
Model Twitter feeds are those that happen in real time and generate discussion and sharing. They aren’t automated, nor are they approved weeks in advance on a schedule. If anything, the now former social media coordinator for FCPS provided a little personality to the site, and in doing so, ensured that students across the district were actually checking it out (if only for a little bit). She showed how school district social media feeds can actually interact with the very students they are supposed to be serving.
Unfortunately, the actions in Frederick County will have more districts pulling back that getting into the scrum. Instead of using Twitter to engage and build community, they will use Twitter as a bulletin board, thinking that a single line they post on scheduling will stay top of mind to their entire community for perpetuity. And that’s a crying shame.
If school districts are going to use Twitter, they need to use it for all it is worth. Otherwise, they may just take their messages and chalk them up on the old slate and hang it outside the little red school house. It’ll be just as effective communicating with families.