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When the people fear their government,
there is tyranny;
when the government fears the people,
there is liberty.
~ Thomas Jefferson


Novi Schools' tweets - personal or official?

January 26, 2017

Many local officials use personal Twitter accounts to post anything from news stories to humorous accountings to advice and even personal messages and opinions. One thing most of the Twitter accounts have in common is that they are personal, with the handle named after the individual. It's fairly common.

There is one glaring exception locally: The Twitter account of Novi School's Asst. Superintendant Dr. R.J. Webber.

Webber's Twitter account is the official sounding @NoviAcademics, and has nearly 2,900 followers. In addition, it is advertised and imbedded (republished) on the school districts official website. That in our opinion makes it quite official.

The issue? Numerous politically oriented and business promoting posts on an officially promoted feed that are also rebroadcast by the school district. In our opinion, he's bringing his personal opinions to the public, on the public's dime.

Recent examples this month alone include nine posts generally critical of Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education, and seven posts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We appreciate his recognizing this important day, but seven times? We don't see any posts about other such holidays.

In addition, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day last year, Webber actually tweeted "... allow our kids to learn directly from the actions/images of the oppressor." Interesting choice of words from an educator.

Webber also seems obsessed with an organization called Playworks Detroit, repeatedly posting about them. There are numerous other examples, but rarely is a tweet actually about Novi's academics. Many of these tweets appear to be posted during school hours.

At a recent school board meeting, Trustee Dennis O'Connor brought the issue up after we'd (again) emailed the board about it, agreeing with us and asking that it be addressed. His comments were spot-on and succinct. He was clearly advocating that the school district do the right thing and stop posting political and other inappropriate tweets.

Trustee Kathy Hood then stated that she hadn't seen our email, and immediately backed school administration by saying that she'd seen no political posts on Webber's Twitter feed. If she wasn't aware of our email how did she know to look for the political posts in the first place?

After that board meeting, we got the expected reply from Superintendent Dr. Steve Matthews, stating "Dr. Webber's Twitter account is his own and not a district account," and that he didn't see an issue. When we then pointed out that it is imbedded on the district's website, he stated, "Reasonable people can and often do disagree."

He is obviously OK with this - nothing to see here, move along.

We the People believe Webber's Twitter account is periodically inappropriate given it's official name and promotion. We also believe it is a misuse of public resources. The account should be renamed, not promoted by the district and certainly not imbedded on the school district's website.

Finally, we are disappointed that at least one school board member seemed to write off the issue just as quickly as it was raised, apparently without really looking into it. As such, we'll be sure to keep a closer eye on the usually routine board meetings.

Previous Editorial

Editor's note: Dr. Matthews also has a personal Twitter account under his own name, as does Asst. Sup. Barr. Matthews' posts are also promoted on the district's website. Barr's do not appear to be.

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