HUNTINGTON — A social studies teacher at Huntington High has been suspended with pay following the discovery of several racially charged tweets shared through her personal Twitter account over the span of more than a year, a school official said Monday.
Jedd Flowers, director of communications with Cabell County Schools, confirmed that the account "pigpen63," which contained the messages in question, was a personal account for Mary Durstein, who agreed to delete the account.
Flowers said school officials were alerted to the tweets over the weekend, when Cabell County students and residents sent screenshots of tweets from Durstein’s account that show her condoning racist actions against Muslims and black people.
Cabell County Superintendent Bill Smith was quick to condemn Durstein's actions and said her tweets do not represent the district.
“The tweets that you have seen — those are things that we do not adhere to,” he said. “We believe that all children are welcome here — all adults as well — in Cabell County schools. We want to make sure that is clear to our students and clear to the employees that work for us.”
While the tweets were only brought to the district’s attention over the weekend, they span several years.
In one tweet dated July 18, 2015, Durstein said, “#cashinIn #WakeUpAmerica #viewcrew Who cares if we offend Muslims at least they keep their heads on tact. They’re the enemy!”
In one of her most recent tweets, dated Jan. 5, 2017, Durstein responded to a tweet that said “Can you imagine how many riots we would have around the country if the terrorists were white?” The tweet contained a photo of four black people, two males and two females, with the caption, “Imagine if these were 4 white people torturing a special need black kid!”
In her response, Durstein tweeted, “this could have been Obama’s children.”
She also retweeted posts that condoned deporting Muslims and spoke ill of those who support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Flowers said several students took to the social media site late Sunday, tweeting screenshots and showing disdain for Durstein’s actions.
“(The students) did the right thing by reaching out to us and letting us know,” Flowers said. “We want the message to our students to be that all kinds are welcome at Cabell County Schools. We embrace diversity. Inclusion is essential to everything that we do."
The Herald-Dispatch was unable to contact the Huntington High teacher Monday. A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for Durstein hung up when the reporter identified herself.
As professionals who interact with students from all backgrounds, Smith said the school system holds its teachers to a higher standard.
“We expect the same conduct on social media that we do in the classroom,” he said. “We don’t want to deny teachers the access they can have to the Internet or Facebook and all the other stuff they want to have, but they need to be cognizant of who they are speaking to. And when what they say interferes with the educational process, it becomes a problem.”
In moving forward, Flowers said Durstein will have a meeting with Smith to discuss her actions. Flowers said Durstein has already requested that she have representation at the meeting, though a date had not been set.
If any additional action does take place, Flowers said it will have to be approved by the Cabell County Board of Education.
Flowers said the school system is still investigating whether Durstein indeed violated any of Cabell County Schools policies.
Cabell County Schools does have an employee code of conduct which states, “All Cabell County professional employees shall maintain a safe and healthy environment, free from harassment, intimidation, bullying, substance abuse, and/or violence, and free from bias and discrimination.”
It goes on to say that employees shall “create a culture of caring through understanding and support” and “demonstrate responsible citizenship by maintaining a high standard of conduct, self-control, and moral/ethical behavior.”