School employee fired after correcting student’s spelling in a tweet

By Tara Bahrampour

The Washington Post

The downfall of Katie Nash as social media coordinator for Frederick County (Maryland) Public Schools was, she said, sealed in a tweet.

On Jan. 5, as a storm approached, a student tweeted a message asking the district to “close school tammarow PLEASE.”

Thinking she would combine pedagogy with a little levity, Nash tweeted from the district’s account, “but then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow’?” and followed it with a smiley-face emoticon.

District officials did not smile back.

They asked her to delete the tweet and subsequent banter with students about possible school closures, and the student in question received an apology from the district’s communications director. On Jan. 13, Nash was fired.

It all set off an uproar on Twitter. Her original tweet had garnered more than 1,100 retweets and 1,400 likes. She became the subject of a hashtag, #KatiefromFCPS, and another one, #FreeKatie, after a report erroneously stated that she had lost access to the district’s Twitter feed before being fired, the Frederick News Post reported.

The spelling-challenged original poster weighed in, tweeting that he did not take it personally.

That did not matter. Nash’s tone and approach to social media were more laid back than her employer liked. The district’s communications director, Michael Doerrer, told the News Post that its Twitter feed is expected to convey “an FCPS voice,” and Superintendent Terry Alban told the paper that Board of Education members had expressed concerns.

Liz Barrett, the board’s vice president, said the tweet “was inappropriate and certainly created a lot of unpleasant responses in terms of other students piling on,” according to the paper.

Doerrer said that although he could not comment on personnel matters, “we do have guidelines related to social media, and our number one goal is to lift up and to encourage students.”

“We’ve had very successful social media for the last several years,” he said, adding that the district’s social media is considered “a model for the state” and that the last person in the position was there for four or five years and “did very well.” He said employees have the right to appeal personnel decisions.

Barrett also said she could not talk about personnel matters. She added that “personnel matters are complex, and they’re so complex typically that they can’t be summed up in a sound bite.”

Neither Nash nor Alban could be reached Monday.

Nash, who reportedly started at her position in November, had been on a probation period. Three days before the controversy, she had tweeted, “Love my job,” from her personal account after talking to sixth-graders about books that changed them.

Her offending tweet came as the district aimed to be more relaxed and conversational with students on social media, she told WHAG-TV.

“We had received feedback from some students in a focus group that our tweeting was a bit flat; they were looking for some more engagement,” she said. “I really took that to heart because I know that I am a little bit older and maybe not as hip as some of the students are.”

Nash, 34, is part of the parent-teacher association and has two children who attend school in the district, according to her Twitter account.

Doerrer handed her a termination letter in a meeting that lasted four minutes, she told the New York Daily News.

That day, she tweeted from her own account that she did not “regret a tweet” and wished the district success.

The next day she tweeted, “still a mom … just more time on my hands to yell at y’all.”

Since Jan. 5, the district’s tweets have been far less humorous. “Budget forum tonight – 7pm!” reads one.

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