School Closure Tweets Translate to Thousands of Followers for School Officials

By David Culver
|  Thursday, Jan 23, 2014  |  Updated 9:19 PM EDT
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Calling off school for snow or ice is a decision scrutinized by thousands, and getting word out early is making some school officials

David Culver

Calling off school for snow or ice is a decision scrutinized by thousands, and getting word out early is making some school officials "must-follows" on Twitter.

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Calling off school for snow or ice is a decision scrutinized by thousands, and getting word out early is making some school officials "must-follows" on Twitter.

A month ago, Fairfax County School Board member Ryan McElveen had fewer than 1,000 followers on Twitter. Now more than 12,000 follow him.

"It all started when we had a snow day back in early December and immediately students caught on that I was a reliable source and they just started following me and retweeting me," McElveen said.

As an elected school official, McElveen gets early notice when schools will close or delay. He immediately passes that along to his followers.

"It's important for students to know that it's not up to the school board,” McElveen explained. “We do have a superintendent and chief operating officer who do go out and survey conditions."

Students are so happy with McElveen's tweets they've photoshopped him amongs the "cool" kids, tweeted pictures of him as the face of Simba from “The Lion King” with the caption “All hail Ryan!” and proposed a Ryan McElveen action figure.

"It is very funny, and you know the students have just been very creative, and it just shows what kind of creative energy is out there if students are inspired by snow days," McElveen said.

Fellow school board member Elizabeth Schultz is also getting high praise from students for her early tweets, and in Loudoun County, schools spokesperson Wayde Byard has a Facebook page dedicated to him and has signed autographs for students.

But the school system warns some Twitter users are spreading bad information and some of those fake tweets are getting retweeted.

Fairfax County schools spokesperson John Torre has no problem with legitimate tweets like McElveen's. He's worried about false accounts like “FCPS alert.”

"There are a number of ways that we disseminate this information officially, and we would hope parents would rely on that first and foremost as the official notification as to whether or not schools will be open," Torre said.

"I think what we've seen in Montgomery County with Joshua Starr has definitely been instructive," said McElveen, referring to social media bashing of the Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent for not canceling school in the past this winter. “It's a learning process,” he added, “and we just have to show them how to behave well on Twitter and social media."

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