Culture

School employee fired after tweet joking about student's spelling

Commentary: In Maryland, the woman in charge of a public school system's Twitter account finds that using wit may be frowned on by authority.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Did Katie Nash lose her job over a tweet?

WHAG-TV/screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

When the big hand of humorless authority swoops down upon you, there are no tomorrows.

That was Katie Nash's experience after being fired by Frederick County Public Schools in Maryland.

As WHAG-TV reports, Nash was the schools' web experience coordinator. She was undergoing her probationary period and one of her responsibilities was the schools' Twitter account.

She told WHAG that students in a focus group had deemed the schools' tweeting a touch dry: "They were looking for some more engagement. They were looking at us to tweet back from them."

It's a dangerous thing to believe what's said in research, but Nash says she "took it to heart."

So when a student tweeted on January 5 "close school tamarrow PLEASE," Nash went for wit.

"But then how would you learn how to spell 'tomorrow?' :)" she replied. The smiley-face emoji was surely wise. You can never be too careful when it comes to humor these days.

Nash says most students thought it was funny. The school administrators, however, not so much. She says they told her to delete the tweet. She was fired Friday.

Could it be that one moment of wit caused the administrators to snit?

Michael Doerrer, FCPS director of communications, community engagement and marketing, confirmed that Nash is no longer employed there. He couldn't confirm that the tweet caused her unemployment.

"After an employment decision and action, an employee has a right to appeal that decision," he said. "It is inappropriate and unethical for FCPS to comment on the circumstances surrounding situations like this."

Nash didn't immediately respond to my question as to whether she will appeal.

Doerrer, however, added: "Situations like this are often not as simple as they seem."

He also told WHAG that he'd apologized to the student concerned, though there's no evidence publicly that the student was concerned. The Frederick News-Post reports that Nash claimed the student didn't mind the tweet at all.

Nash's tweet did enjoy virality, however, with more than 1,000 retweets and 1,400 likes.

Nash told WHAG that she hopes the schools will think hard about how to use social media in this new environment. Even our next president understands Twitter has immense power.

Indeed, the hashtag #KatiefromFCPS has enjoyed quite some activity since news of her departure emerged. There's even a Care2 petition demanding she get her job back.

For her part, Nash has continued to tweet from her personal Twitter account. For example, this controversial tweet: "Relaxin' #SundayFunday- TY all. @FCPSMaryland is an awesome school system, great teachers/students like this one & his sister #Thankful."

It was accompanied by a picture of her and one of her kids.


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