FCPS PR and social media

Fairfax County Public Schools spent $99,414.84 of taxpayer money over six months in 2020 for Yes& Agency, an Alexandria, “crisis communications” contractor, to help it with “mitigating controversies” and protecting “the FCPS brand of being one of the best public school systems in the nation,” according to documents received at Parents Defending Education, a national nonprofit organization, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. 

It also used the firm to try to “control the narrative” over its changes in 2020 to remove race-blind admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST). 

And now, according to a “request for proposal” a local parent shared with Parents Defending Education, the embattled school district is seeking to pay a contractor up to $200,000 for “Social Media Management Services” to “monitor social media threats, harassment, hate speech and bullying” for its Office of Safety and Security, including through “active listening,” “deep and dark web sources not visible through traditional search engines” and “Open Source Intelligence.”

It further seeks to “classify aliases, usernames, emails [sic] websites, etc.” and “visually identify relationships and connections between persons.”

The new surveillance comes as the National Education Association comes under fire for trying to influence social media giants to silence detractors — most of them parents — and the National School Boards Association imploded after trying to malign parents as purveyors of “domestic terrorism.”

“The FCPS Social Media monitoring program is in the developmental stage and is intended to protect students and staff from potential safety threats through early notification and response,” FCPS Spokeswoman Julie Moult said in a statement released to media. “As this program develops, it will be supported by regulation and procedures. It is only a part of our comprehensive safety and security program that focuses on a safe school environment.”

The school district’s request for proposal says it wants to protect “any students or teacher” within the school district, with no mention of parents. Local parents expressed concern the “informal” request for proposal, called “Informal RFP3100000481” and dated Nov. 30, 2021, is a waste of money that should be spent on mitigating learning loss experienced during the Covid pandemic. The bidding process closed on Feb. 2.

The new request for proposal comes amid new details of how the school district paid Yes& Agency $99,414.84 in 2020 for “strategic communications” support for six months from June 2020 through December 2020. Fairfax County didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding this contract.

According to company invoices, Fairfax County Public Schools paid the firm $28,404.24 for June 2020, its monthly retainer for the rest of the year “doubled to account for the intensive work needed to initiate the project.” 

The school district paid $14,202.12 monthly for another six months of services in July, August, September, October, November, and December 2020. One of its selling points to win the deal was that “having many staff members as FCPS parents, we are prepared for the community…”

According to its balance sheets, included in the proposal, the company had $17.3 million in revenues in 2019, up from $16.1 million in 2018. Its net income rose to $912,575 in 2019 from $421,108 in 2018.

The company said: “Yes& has also identified partners who can act as message multipliers and provided materials and messages that they can distribute through their channels, further amplifying client messages.” 

During the contract, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, school board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer said she wasn’t satisfied with media strategy over the controversial issue of changing admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She sent an email to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, FCPS chief operating officer Marty Smith and communications officer John Torre, with the subject line, “TJ admissions and the media.” 

Sizemore Heizer wrote: “...I think we need some strategic communication and stronger talking points around TJ admissions....” She added: “I suggest we frame it on increasing diversity through redefining merit rather than through just a lottery.” She ended: “I respectfully suggest we do more to control the narrative....”

Torre said the school had a communications contractor, Yes&, “working on a more strategic response.”

 

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