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Lorain ADC chair blocks parent, parent group on Twitter

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LORAIN — The district’s Academic Distress chairman has blocked a parent and a parent group on Twitter, giving rise to legal questions regarding his actions.

Academic Distress Commission Chairman Randall Sampson allegedly blocked Lorain parent Barbie Washington’s personal account, and the It Takes a Village to Tackle HB70 account Saturday, according to screenshots shared with The Chronicle-Telegram. Washington is the administrator of the @TackleHB70 account, which represents several parents in the district who have become increasingly vocal about the 2015 state takeover law and its impact on the district. Blocking an account on Twitter denies the blocked user the ability to see any of that account’s tweets, connecting with the account via tweets or direct messages or following the account.

On Monday, Washington tweeted at the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and sent an email to the national ACLU regarding Sampson blocking her.

“I think it’s illegal because he’s a public official,” she said. “He’s limiting me.”

Attorney Tim Smith, a First Amendment lawyer and a retired journalist and professor at Kent State University, said as a public official, Sampson should not have blocked the accounts — comparing the lines of communication with a public record or school board minutes.

“You can’t pick your audience if you’re a public official and you’re communicating information about a public entity,” Smith said. “I don’t think you should be allowed to exclude groups based on whether or not you think they’re friendly or supportive.”

On the other hand, Smith said the argument could be made that anyone without a Twitter account also is being excluded, and using the social media platform is voluntary. He noted the law has yet to catch up with social media. Litigation regarding public officials and their social media accounts is pending in several courts across the country, including in the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals regarding President Donald Trump’s blocking of individuals on his @realDonaldTrump account, which he uses to make statements as the president.

According to screenshots shared with The Chronicle, Washington had direct messaged questions to Randall via the @TackleHB70 account in early April, to no response. On April 10 she sent “Dr. Dr. Dr. 9-1-1-! Help!” in regard to a situation involving the nonrenewal of several limited contract staff and a revision of district policy. He responded April 19 that “someone on the team had a death in the family and others had out of country travel … still trying to rearrange schedules.”

Later that afternoon, Washington thanked him for the information, but noted he didn’t respond to the call for help. Per screenshots, he blocked the accounts Saturday.

Both Washington’s personal account and @TackleHB70 have shared posts critical of Sampson, the ADC and the Lorain Schools administration.

When asked Monday evening for a comment on why he blocked the accounts, Sampson did not respond directly on the situation.

“My number one focus is the return of local control to the Lorain School Board, not a social media Twitter account. In order to get total control back to Lorain school board, we have to maintain a laser-light focus on increasing the high school graduation rate, closing the achievement gap and getting more students to consistently show up to school.”

He went on to cite 2010 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding the impact a high school or higher education degree has on earnings.

“Lorain is a classy and hardworking community, educators deserve our focus and very best effort,” he said. “Anything that doesn’t focus on giving kids and teachers the best is a distraction to the mission. … We can’t afford to take energy from helping teachers and focusing on someone’s social-media post — unless the post creates a threat to do harm; stalking or cyber-bullying.”

Washington took her concerns to state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, office hours in Avon on Monday.

Following the meeting, Manning said he would have to look into the situation more but did not necessarily agree with Sampson blocking Washington or the parent group’s Twitter account.

“I try not to limit anybody’s input, and that’s part of being a public official, being an elected official or an appointed official, I think that’s what you signed up for,” he said.

A mystery account

Washington was also blocked by another Twitter account, @LorainADC, which has only existed for about a week. The Lorain ADC account has sparked some questions among Academic Distress Commission members as to its origin.

The account does not identify itself as affiliated with Lorain Academic Distress Commission in its biography, but is using the district’s logo as its profile picture and retweets information from and about the district.

Commission member Steve Cawthon sent an email to the rest of the commission Monday morning asking who had created the account. He said Monday evening he had received responses from everyone on the commission — except Sampson — stating they didn’t know who had created the account.

Sampson did not return a request for comment regarding @LorainADC account.

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.

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