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Education department's Twitter account was 'hacked' to post fake charter school survey

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Wyoming School Choice Survey

This screenshot shows the website Wyoming School Choice Survey. The Wyoming Department of Education says its Twitter account was hacked and directed readers to the website.

A fake charter school poll that was posted on the Wyoming Department of Education’s Twitter account last weekend was the result of the account being “hacked,” a department spokesperson said.

“We didn’t create the survey,” spokesperson Linda Finnerty told the Star-Tribune.

The poll was on the department’s Twitter page for “a couple days” before it was deleted on Sunday, by which time it had one comment, two shares and one like, according to Finnerty. She said the account’s password has since been changed.

The incident was first reported Wednesday by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, which shared a link to the poll that had been taken directly from the Twitter post.

The poll asks participants to rate how much they favor or oppose “giving parents more options when choosing a public school,” “allowing schools to make quick, effective changes to improve student achievement,” “giving schools and teachers more flexibility” around curriculum and teaching methods, and other questions that seem angled in favor of charter schools.

The state of Wyoming, the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming School-University Partnership retweeted the post, according to the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

On Thursday, the Wyoming School-University Partnership posted an apology about the survey on Twitter.

“We apologize for any confusion that this survey may have caused and we have since deleted the phony survey from our social media posts,” it says.

Finnerty said the education department’s IT team doesn’t have further information right now about who might have posted the survey, although she asserted that it was not posted by someone who had authorized access to the Twitter account. Only two people have authorized access, according to Finnerty. She said that neither of them are top-level department administrators.

The department’s IT team is looking into where else the poll might have been shared, according to Finnerty. She said the department recommends people not to engage with the survey if they come across it.

Charter schools have been a topic of some contention in Wyoming.

The state hasn’t historically been too welcoming to charter schools. There are five of them in the state right now. But last year, the Legislature passed a bill that allows the State Loan and Investment Board to approve charters for schools. Before, only school districts could do that.

The new law opened the door for three potential schools — Prairie View Community School in Chugwater, Wyoming Classical Academy in Mills and Cheyenne Classical Academy — to apply for charters through the new approval process.

While some welcome the charter schools as an expansion of options for students who learn better in different ways, others are concerned that they could siphon funding from traditional public schools.

And there are people who are concerned about the potential religious overtones of some charter schools. The proposed charter schools in Mills and Cheyenne are based on a “classical” model of education that was developed by Hillsdale College, a private Christian college in Michigan. The college’s Barney Charter School Initiative has opened charter schools across the country, including three in neighboring Colorado.

Others say that, because charter schools are still public schools, they will be held to the same secular standards as traditional public schools.

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Prairie View Community School in Chugwater, Wyoming Classical Academy Charter School in Casper and Cheyenne Classical Academy Charter School have applied for charters. If their charters are approved, the schools will likely open their doors in fall 2023.

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