Frederick County Public Schools’ social media guidelines were updated this month when a position handling the district accounts became vacant.
Katie Nash held the position of web experience coordinator for the school system from November until the beginning of this month. Nash said she was fired after a tweet she sent from the school’s account playfully correcting a student’s spelling went viral.
The student tweeted at the school system account, asking the district to close school “tammarow.”
Nash wrote in response from the district Twitter feed: “But then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow’? :)”
She said she hadn’t received guidance regarding the tone of the account or how to interact with students. She said she received a single page of guidelines when she was hired.
FCPS spokesman Michael Doerrer wouldn’t speak directly about an individual employee, but said every new employee in that position, as well as seven other employees with access to the district’s social media accounts, are extensively trained and given guidance. He said all new school system employees also have a mandatory training session that talks about social media.
Employees get the guidelines and procedures their first day, if not first hour, on the job, he said.
“There is extensive training,” he said. “We don’t just hand over the passwords.”
The Frederick News-Post obtained a copy of the FCPS Social Media and School Site Standard Operating Procedures and Guidelines through a Maryland Public Information Act request. The seven-page document states that it was developed in November 2016 and updated this month.
The school system did not provide a copy of the previous version of the document before deadline.
Nash, who was hired in November, said the updated document is more comprehensive than what she received when she was hired. It expands on several points and adds guidance on weather updates and posting personal material and on analytics tracking.
But Doerrer said any employee in the past few years who handled social media accounts would get the same amount of material and training as was in the new document.
“The specific format of a particular document might change,” he said. “The strategy, principles and guidance have stayed the same. The training is, has been and will continue to be extensive.”
The procedures and guidelines, as outlined in the document, include a goal for a 15 percent increase in parents who interact with FCPS social media by 2020.
Some items in the guidelines are: Never speak for or comment on the Board of Education; avoid controversial topics; and always post with the FCPS voice.
The document said the voice of the school district’s social media should reflect support for parents and families, and be respectful, responsive, a promoter of inclusiveness and diversity, among other things.
A phrase in the updated guidelines says social media messages should never be “mocking, disrespectful, rude, mean or dismissive.” Nash provided The News-Post with a copy of the earlier guidelines, which she received. That phrase was not in the earlier version.
The earlier guidelines that Nash shared ends with a tip encouraging caution: “Push the envelope, but stay out of trouble. When in doubt, just ask.”
The updated guidelines expands on that: “Social media is not static. Push the envelope (in terms of trying new technique and tools) but stay out of trouble (never try to generate controversy or offend to get clicks). When in doubt (about a tool, technique, or even an individual post or tweet), just ask — we have a collaborative and creative team that’s ready to help you with feedback and ideas.”
Nash said the district’s social media accounts were important during weather-related closings because they could send information out quicker than Find Out First, a county schools news alert system, which has a slight delay.
The updated guidelines that the school system provided had a note on weather and emergencies that was not on the sheet Nash received in November.
The note states that weather closing and emergency information is among the most important material the position posts: “People rely on you to be fast, accurate, and clear when you share closing/delay and emergency information. Don’t do anything during inclement weather or emergency situations to distract or detract from sharing information that the community urgently needs. Stay on point.”
The guidelines also outline the different social media platforms and what their purposes are, as well as how to prepare social media schedules at the start of every week that map out the day and time of each post and whether there are videos, photos or links associated with each.
Doerrer said he helped shape the social media guidelines about five years ago, when social media strategies for school districts weren’t easy to find. He remembered that he went to the Board of Education and presented it with the vision of what the voice of the social media should be.
“If our social media were a neighborhood, we’d want it to be someplace where you’d want to live,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our social media over the years and not just in likes and shares and clicks,” Doerrer said. “And the tone we’ve struck over the years is something very positive.”