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Superintendent Counters Tweets with Call for 'Cybercivility'

While the county school superintendent was debating whether or not to close schools due to winter storms last week, some students directed inappropriate comments at him on Twitter.

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr.
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr.
By Laura L Thornton 

While Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr was deciding whether or not to close schools due to inclement weather last week, some MCPS students directed inappropriate comments on Twitter at him, the school system and Montgomery Community Mediareported.

"I was really startled at what some of our kids were saying online, and I felt like I have a responsibility—as superintendent, and also as a father—to ... make sure our adults and kids are talking about the need to be appropriate and have some 'cybercivility,' " he told Montgomery Community Media on Monday morning.

In an open letter Starr wrote on Friday to parents and the community calling for cybercivility, Starr wrote that "[some] of these 'tweets' were clever, funny and respectful, pleading for me to cancel school so they could sleep in or have more time to do their homework."

"Many of these tweets, however, were offensive and disturbing," Starr wrote. "Some were threatening to me and others. A few referenced my family. There was rampant use of racial epithets and curse words."

"Some of the tweets I received were so disturbing that my staff reported them to the school principal and our security team. This may seem like an overreaction to some, but it is our legal responsibility to do so, and we take it very seriously," he wrote.

"Cyberbullying is a real issue among children and adults. We not only have to teach our kids how to handle new technologies appropriately, but we also have to model that behavior in our own communications on social media and email," he continued.

On Twitter, Starr was careful to distinguish between what he experienced and cyberbullying.

"It was not bullying. The press characterized it that way," he tweeted (from @mcpssuper) on Monday.

The full letter was published on the MCPS website, along with links to resources for parents and community members. 

Starr also asked staff to create a task force to raise awareness of the need for cybercivility, the school system reported.

When does incivility online cross the border into cyberbullying? Have you experienced either? Tell us in the comments.

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