Q: I’m a principal who uses Twitter to share school news. Our student body is diverse, much like our district as a whole, and we have a lot of immigrant families. I’m always looking for ways to make students and their families feel welcome, and I train my staff in issues of equity, social justice, implicit bias, and cultural responsiveness. One of my counselors recently followed me on Twitter, and I normally wouldn’t think twice about following a staff member back. But her feed — Oh. My. God! She retweets and likes a lot of racist and anti-immigrant comments posted by extremist politicians and news organizations. I find these views abhorrent and sickening. All of her tweets run contrary to the tone I’m trying to set as a leader.
This counselor is brash and trash-talky in real life, but I had no idea she was so prejudiced. I’m embarrassed to have her on my staff, but more importantly, I’m concerned that she’s putting this on our students. And she’s a school counselor! It’s not like she’s in her 20s and naïve either — this woman is 50. I know she’s entitled to her opinions, and yes, this is her personal account, but I saw the tweets because SHE followed ME!
Would you advise discussing this with her and asking her to think about how it comes off to others? If I follow her back, I’d look complicit, right? I don’t think she’s violating any policies, but who the heck knows. It’s hard to make sense of our social media code of conduct. Should I report her and let HR sort it out?
A: This is exactly why educators need to be careful on social media. This counselor is tweeting from her personal account and didn’t think twice about following you. I doubt she pictured you analyzing her likes and retweets. Yet, here you are, scrolling through her feed, completely horrified.
The first thing I’d do is contact a lawyer or compliance specialist in your Human Resources Department and get clarity on your district’s social media policies. You need to have a good handle on the code of conduct. I’d also let the specialist know you plan to talk to the employee about your concerns. They might give you specific talking points — or advise you to let them handle it.
Assuming you get clearance to talk to the counselor, I’d tell her that you took a look at her feed when she followed you. Tell her that it raised some serious concerns. Start with questions. Is she aware that her posts come off as racist? Has she thought through how that might appear to members of the diverse, international community she serves? Has it occurred to her that some people might read her tweets and assume she’s hostile to subgroups of students? Has she considered that her views run contrary to the tone you’re trying to set, or that you or others might find her opinions disturbing? Get her to think critically about the optics. I’d also help her understand that while she’s entitled to her personal views, she’s taking a risk, and there could be professional fallout. At minimum, you’re telling her that her supervisor is shocked and appalled.
I’d then explain the code of conduct and share that there’s precedent for teachers getting in trouble for expressing personal views online. There’s really no such thing as privacy on social media, even when someone posts from a personal account using privacy settings. You could share the case of Dayanna Volitich, a middle school teacher in Florida, who was fired in March after she hosted a racist podcast on social media. She had used an alias, claimed it was satire, and swore that it didn’t affect how she taught social studies. None of that mattered. As soon as a reporter saw the podcast and alerted her district’s HR Department, Volitich was cooked.
In other words, your counselor is in dangerous territory. And following her back could be professionally risky for you. While many people do follow people with different ideologies, your community could misinterpret the gesture. The families you serve might think you support her hateful views. A follow could be hurtful to them and send your counselor a mixed message.
Finally, I’d take a hard look at how the counselor interacts with students. Does she treat kids differently depending on their race, nationality, or immigration status? This is a fair question to ask under the circumstances. If you uncover any disturbing data or trends, I’d circle back to the compliance specialist or lawyer for further guidance. At that point, it’s no longer about monitoring online comments — it’s about documenting inappropriate behavior.
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