Prince William County schools superintendent Twitter account investigated

Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent Steve Walts has suspended the use of his Twitter account, and the school board has hired a private firm to review one resident’s complaints about Walts’ private messages to students.

Walts, in a Twitter video posted that has since been deleted before suspending his @SuperPWCS account this week, said a former school board member has “chosen to launch a partisan and personal attack on me.”

Prince William County resident Guy Morgan provided WTOP with the three complaints he filed against Walts in March and early April.

Walts said the timing of the personal attacks online by Morgan and colleagues coincide with Walts’ contract renewal period, which he had tweeted about previously: “As part of their attacks, they have chose to smear and slander me for purely political reasons.”

Morgan requested copies of Walts’ private messages from the school system under the Freedom of Information Act, and eventually paid $215 to have a portion of them printed. One response asked him to narrow his request, since a preliminary search found more than 10,000 direct messages sent from Walts’ Twitter account.

In his video, Walts suggested he had nothing to hide: “No correspondence conducted through this account was private, and it is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.”

In tweets viewed by WTOP, Walts’ Twitter engagement with students was largely good-natured and friendly, with students fondly referring to him as G.O.A.T. — greatest of all time — a compliment he seemed to embrace.

Though Morgan’s complaints are critical of Walts’ self-promotion and online persona, they also allege Walts touches female students inappropriately: “He intentionally, and wholly unnecessarily, reaches behind them and clasps his fingers around their waists, below and above their hips and even their upper rib cages, in areas near their breasts.”

Morgan’s complaint includes several photographs of Walts posing for pictures with students (whose faces had been blurred), including edited close-ups of Walts’ hands. In a photo, apparently taken in a school pool area, with his arm around a teenage girl, a red arrow and description proclaims: “Touching bare skin.”

Morgan claims Walts’ “late-night exchanges” with students on Twitter at least give the appearance of impropriety, and chides Walts for not taking more assertive actions — besides not responding — when students’ tweets mentioning his Twitter handle contain sexual or violent content.

On Wednesday, the school board announced it was investigating Walts’ Twitter account.

“In response to the filing of these complaints, early last month, the School Board retained an independent outside firm to conduct an external review of Dr. Walts’ official Twitter account to determine the validity of the allegations and provide the Board with a confidential report,” according to the statement.

Morgan provided a copy of the county’s retainer agreement with Forensic Risk Alliance Inc., based in Providence, Rhode Island.

The complaints filed by Morgan include tweets that have photos and profile information from students whose accounts Walts followed.

“I will not allow children in PWCS to become political pawns for those who seek to damage me during my contract renewal period,” Walts said in his video message in announcing the suspension of his account.

Walts said the Twitter account has helped thousands of people with assistance they needed: “This includes students in crisis, teachers who have expressed concerns and parents seeking help.”

In his video message, Walts said he is closing the account “only until the smear campaign is brought into the light of day, for what it is,” and “I hope it will be resolved quickly.”

Forensic Risk Alliance estimated the investigation would require approximately 10 hours of research, at a cost of approximately $8,600.

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