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Forsyth principal suspended for Facebook posts. Are these folks not aware of social media risks?

With the resignation Tuesday of a Department of Education official for racially incendiary Facebook posts and the suspension Thursday of the Lambert High School principal for posts about Muslims, welfare recipients and refugees, I have a question for educators: How do these high-ranking administrators not understand the dangers of social media?

I thought the risks implicit in social media were made clear to everyone in education today. Both men were media savvy; Jeremy Spencer led the DOE's virtual school, Gary Davison oversaw Lambert High, a top performing school in a district fluent and fluid in technology.

Forsyth Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said this morning Davison is on "an open-ended suspension...He made a mistake. He recognizes it and he has to work to regain the community's trust."

I asked Caracciolo about the district's social media policies. She said the district had clear policies. Among those posted on the district's website:

•Show respect for myself and others when using technology including social media.

•Any content staff members publish, pictures they post, or dialogue they maintain, whether in Facebook, Twitter, a blog, a discussion thread or other website should never compromise the professionalism, integrity and ethics in their role as a FCS professional. A good question that staff members should ask themselves before posting or emailing a message is, “Would I mind if that information appeared on the front page of the local newspaper?” If the answer is “yes,” then do not post it. Email and social networking sites are very public places.

My question: Apparently, Lambert High principal Davison accepted friend requests from former students, according to Caracciolo, which is what led to his controversial posts being brought to light and to the attention of media and the district. If you know former students are reading your Facebook page, doesn't that demand even more vigilance?

Did Jeremy Spencer of DOE and Davison assume every reader of their Facebook posts would share their views? Is that a safe bet in Georgia for the most part? (That is what several teachers have told me this week, especially teachers from South Georgia.)

Are there still educators who have not cleaned up their act on social media?

To read what happened in Forsyth, go here.

A former student who took offense at the anti-Muslim postings on Davison's Facebook posted a long rebuttal, which illustrates the damage the principal caused to his and the school's reputation: "I believe you may remember my fleeting words once when we ran into each other: 'I'm a fan of your work.' I was moved by your speeches of Lambert's acceptance and diversity and embrace of differences. I would like to formally and cordially apologize for saying that to you. I don't know why I thought your words would reflect who you are, but a quick view of your public Facebook will show me why I was so ignorant...There is a greater and greater influx of minority students coming to the Forsyth County district. And if you take a look at your own statistics, you may have troubled thoughts when you see that many of the freshmen have the last name Khan. Your ideas are unacceptable."

Another former student wrote: "You were the person who plastered signs about Lambert having diversity all over the school, while posting on your Facebook that Muslims were not allowed in the country. You approved an after-school group that brought people of different nationalities and races together and you talked about accepting everyone, then you shared posts about keeping Syrian refugees out of our country. "

In a statement, Davison asked for forgiveness. “I offended many individuals and embarrassed our school,” he said. “I am committed to regaining our community’s trust.”


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.