Be mindful of what is said on social media

Social media can be a great tool at times to inform the public of happenings in the area. Here at the paper, we use it to post stories we wrote or photos we took throughout the week.

Cody Thorn

Cody Thorn

We also share posts from MoDOT, school districts or organizations that we feel our readers might be interesting in.

Last week we posted on Facebook about the suspension of Dr. Chad Searcey, a principal at Compass Elementary in the Platte County School District.

Let me tell you, the comments were blowing up my phone from last Thursday and haven’t stopped yet.

I have spent a lot of time going over the situation and have been asked by a few people what will happen?

I have no idea to be honest.

It will be interesting to see if anything is said or brought up during the R-3 board of education meeting on Thursday, June 20.

There were a lot of comments on Facebook that made me look up information on freedom of speech.

To a certain extent, yes, the first amendment of the constitution provides that. At the same instance though, there have been times where even a personal Twitter will get you in trouble. More on that later.

Searcey had one account on Twitter for work and another for his personal life. The tweet that got him placed on paid administrative leave came from his personal account.

The line there gets blurry. He is a public figure and is known because he is a principal. Does that mean what he says or posts on his personal page doesn’t reflect on the school district?

It does just by association. I would venture to guess if Searcey were an employee of a fast food restaurant or a trash man, a tweet of photos with guns wouldn’t garner the attention. But most of the Kansas City media ran the story simply because he was a principal. It is a job in the public eye.

Then it became a national story and I even saw links to websites in England that ran the story.

I don’t know Searcey at all. My daughter goes to the high school here so I know those principals, but I knew of him because of his job title. I would venture to guess though he didn’t expect one tweet to turn into this.

A search of Searcey on any social platform now will turn up zilch. I’m sure he deleted or deactivated his accounts and some people wouldn’t blame him for that.

I had a teacher I know from another district make the remark that the erasing of his digital footprint looks suspicious or even guilty. If Searcey was OK with what he said/posted then why get rid of it? Stand up for what you believe in. If you believe in gun safety, fine. If you don’t, that is fine as well.

The line between his job as a principal and his life as normal guy and dad gets blurry.

Some research I did turned up a 2006 Supreme Court case, Garcetti vs. Ceballos which shows government employees are protected by the first amendment when they are speaking as private citizens. But sometimes, people can take the lines between government employees speaking as an employee or a private citizen differently. There are a few stipulations, if a government employee is speaking as a private citizen on a public concern — gun safety/gun control would fall under those parameters — does the duty of his job as a principal outweigh those as a citizens or vice versa?

From a personal standpoint, I learned years ago how Twitter can bite you in the rear.

I had been at the St. Joseph News-Press for about a year. It was during the time the Chiefs weren’t great — think end of Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel era — and I was on my own Twitter one night at home. A NFL commercial came on talking about the return of football after the owner’s lockout of 2011.

One of the commercials showed Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt.

Annoyed with everything about the team and the league at that point, I tweeted something about whyhe had the same haircut for the past 15 or so years. I really don’t remember because I didn’t think much of it.

Then a month or so later, I learned the Chiefs had banned me from covering the team. I had been a regular in the press box since 2005.

It was all gone in an instant. I got a one-year ban and then they would reconsider granting me credentials again.

Luckily, for me, they did.

I believed my personal Twitter account and my views there wouldn’t matter to many people. I was just a sports reporter at a paper in St. Joseph. Well, I learned from talking in the aftermath of that I was a public figure and people could easily find my personal account and even though it was from my personal account — and not my work account — the impact was the same.

That was a tough lesson to learn, but I have since learned to be mindful of what is out there.

I was lucky no one was calling for my job like some people are for Dr. Searcey.

We will hopefully provide any updates we can on the case, but given it is a personnel matter we might not learn anything.

If he does lose his job, there is a chance we won’t even know that. In my short time here at the Citizen, the R-3 district isn’t nearly as open with hirings/firings/resignations as North Platte is — the other district that I cover.

Kudos to Karl Matt and the gang over there for being open and letting the patrons know who is new and who is leaving. I haven’t had that same kind of luck with the R-3 district. When I started I even provided email correspondences from a school district I covered in the past and how I would get information.

Generally speaking, I got an email the next day or two days after the meeting saying what happened. The only news I have been able report from Platte County in my nearly two years here is coaching changes and retirements.

Maybe this will provide an opportunity for the district to be more open about the personnel that is hired to educate and oversee the students in Platte County.