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UPDATED: Supervisor Candland Asks School Board to Publish Superintend Walts’ Twitter Correspondences

| May 12, 2020 | 0 Comments | Education

Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland

UPDATED: May 12 at 10:48 p.m. 

By a vote of 7-1 the Prince William Board of County Supervisors supported a Freedom of Information Act request to receive and publish copies of Superintendent of School’s Dr. Steven Walts’ Twitter correspondences.

The vote was taken at the board’s May 12 meeting. The only member to vote against it was Chair Ann Wheeler (D.)

Candland shared the following message, Tuesday evening on his Supervisor’s Facebook page around 10:30 p.m. 

“I’d like to thank my colleagues on the Board of County Supervisors for supporting my motion to submit a FOIA to the school system and publish all Twitter direct messages to and from Superintendent Walts (properly redacted to protect minors) over the last 18 months.”

I believe that the citizens of PWC have the right to see these messages and determine for themselves if his messages were inappropriate.

With a vote of 7-1, I’d like to thank Supervisors Lawson, Vega, Angry, Bailey, Boddye, and Franklin for their support and leadership on this issues.” 

Original Article: May 12 at 10:10 p.m. 

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland (R) is addressing the controversy surrounding Prince William Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Walts’ use of his school Twitter account. The supervisor requests of the Prince William County School Board that all of the Superintendent’s Twitter correspondences be made public with students’ names redacted.

Prince William County School Board announced May 6 that it would be investigating Superintendent Walts’ Twitter correspondences amid allegations that one was inappropriate in tone and possibly violated school division policy.

Walts had over 30,000 followers and used his Twitter account in a playful manner, including playing songs on his piano to announce snow days. It made him popular with parents and high school students. But now his constituents are questioning if the Twitter account was used appropriately for public relations or did Walts break Policy 503.02-1 in engaging with students over social media. May 7, Walts announced he would suspend his Twitter account, but called the accusations part of a political smear campaign.

The allegations of wrong-doing come from Guy Morgan, a Gainesville resident, and associate of former School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers who stepped down from his position in March of 2018. Morgan, who does not have children in the school division, requested to read Walts’ correspondences with students via a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act.)

Morgan asked the school board to investigate one correspondence between Walts and a 14-year-old high school student at Colgan High School. Walts asked for her name, said he would pull her out of class to meet her at her request. He also agreed to follow her on Twitter. The girl addressed him as “King.”

In addition to the school board, Morgan sent copies of the correspondence to the board of county supervisors, including his interpretation of them as highly inappropriate.

Candland, a Republican, once said Walts might want to look for a new job after numerous teachers complained against a principal working at Reagan Middle School, a school in his district, but that principal was not fired. (She was eventually given a position with Human Resources for the school district.)

Sawyers, a Democrat, was also critical of Walts. In the past, he had filed a FOIA request to get his predecessor’s email to no avail. Before the investigation was announced, Sawyers had shared the Twitter message on his Facebook page, and contact local media.

However, the concerns cross aisles. Former Coles School Board member Willie Deutsch, a Republican, has said he also believes the correspondence in concerning. Deutsch has called for more transparency from the Kelly Center as well.

Current school board members cannot comment on the investigation as it is an employee matter.

Candland’s statement: 

“There have been serious allegations made about the behavior of Dr. Walts and the communications he’s had with students via his Twitter account. I have seen several of these alleged communications and was alarmed by their inappropriate nature.”

“This morning, I sent a letter to School Board Chairman Lateef asking that the communications through Dr. Walts’ public Twitter account be published (properly redacted to protect the identity of students) so the citizens of PWC can make their own determination. This is a public account and citizens have the right to see how the Superintendent is communicating with the students of our county.”

“There must be a fair, honest and transparent investigation into these serious allegations.”

Here are excerpts from Candland’s letter: 

“My inquiry here is not meant to infringe in any way on the operational control over Prince William public schools, or to decide what the truth is regarding Dr. Walts’ actions,” rather he said the Board of County Supervisors has some oversite over the school board per Va. Code 22.1-94, regarding funding.

“Given that the School Board has elected to provide a compensation package to Dr. Walts that purportedly makes him the highest-paid Superintendent in the Commonwealth, I believe it is appropriate for the Prince William County Supervisors to have the information request herein to better understand how taxpayer monies are being spent.”

“In addition, I have been contacted by an increasing number of constituents about the alleged actions by Dr. Walts that have been reported through news reports and social media.”

Candland said that part that is “deeply concerning” is that parents or guardians of the student were not included in the direct message.

“Just the act of messaging a 14-year-old girl who is a student in the Prince William County school stem, for any reason, in the middle of the night and without her parents’ involvement in the communication is completely inappropriate and calls into serious question Dr. Walts’ judgement and fitness to lead the organization that is charged with educating and protecting almost 100,000 Prince William County children.”

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