Georgia’s top educational official distanced himself Monday from a high-ranking staffer who posted online about blacks, Muslims, partisan politics and other topics.
Jeremy Spencer posted — and allowed others to post — the content on his Facebook page, but the associate superintendent for virtual schools for the Georgia Department of Education made his official role clear on that page and also addressed educational topics, blurring the line between his private life and his professional role.
One particularly incendiary photograph wasn’t published by him, but he allowed it to remain on his public account for anyone to see for more than two months. On Nov. 19, Spencer posted a news cartoon about President Obama’s response to fears about terrorists immigrating amid Muslim refugees.
A Facebook “friend” responded with the line: “Only one way to solve the problem; impeach and … .” The post was accompanied by a black and white photograph of an African American man hanging from a tree, apparently the victim of a lynching.
Spencer apparently took his Facebook page down Monday, shortly after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution inquired about it. Attempts to reach Spencer on Monday were not successful.
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He also posted news about immigrants, gays and other groups, sometimes with laconic comments. In one, he wrote “subculture” beside a picture of two African American dance teams that got into a fight after a football game. Next to a photo of a tall pole wrapped in rainbow colors and standing in an ornate room that looks like the state Capitol, he wrote: “Gays and poles; now that just ain’t fittin.” In another, Spencer wrote that a comedian who said: “If you wipe your butt with your bare hand but consider bacon to be unclean, you may be a Muslim” was “…leveling the playing field to be inclusive and increase multicultural awareness.”
Any outrage over Spencer’s Internet activity could distract from Woods’ efforts to address the concerns of teachers and parents during this legislative session. On Monday, Spencer was expected to accompany Woods, the state superintendent of schools, who addressed a joint hearing of the Georgia House and Senate about testing. But Spencer did not attend.
Afterward, Woods responded to questions about Spencer’s online activity, saying he had been briefed and would “quickly” investigate over the next week or two before considering any disciplinary action.
“I’m not very pleased at what I’m seeing,” Woods said.
He said, “I do not condone what was out there, and it does not reflect myself or the views of the department.”
Woods hired Spencer, a political campaign supporter, soon after he took office in January 2015. Spencer, the brother of Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, is paid $138,000 a year.
The state Department of Education has guidelines for social media postings, but the guidelines are “specific to DOE accounts, not personal usage,” according to spokesman Matt Cardoza.
Despite that, teachers have been fired for content on their social media pages, despite claims that the firings violated their First Amendment rights. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission published code of ethics for educators that includes “don’t post anything on a website that you would not post on the front door of the school.”
Kaye Sweetser, associate professor of public relations at San Diego State University, called Spencer’s decision to leave some of his friends’ posts on his site “extremely poor judgment.” Sweetser, who has written about mistakes people have made on social media, said Spencer should have known how to manage his accounts, noting his position as associate superintendent for virtual instruction. Georgia’s virtual classes are available to any state student, and are conducted by 250 online teachers.
Spencer had been a science teacher who also taught online.
Meghan Stauts, who instructs students how to conduct themselves on social media, noted Facebook has a way to prevent people from posting comments without the account holder’s approval.
“If you leave (the comments) up, it becomes unspoken that you sponsored it,” said Stauts, associate communications director at The Walker School, a private school in Marietta.
Stauts added: “It still blows my mind what people allow to be posted on their Facebook page.”