WEST FARGO -- A West Fargo special education teacher placed on leave Monday while the school district investigates accusations of inappropriate social media posts about her students, says she has received death threats since the issue became public Friday, April 7.
Sheridan Tihista, a special education teacher at Liberty Middle School, went on “The Jay Thomas Show” Monday, April 10, to apologize for her posts but also to let listeners know her words have been misconstrued.
“I’m a good person who just made a mistake,” Tihista said. “My words have been taken out of context.”
Tihista, a former Miss Montana who won her pageant title on a platform of inclusive education for students with disabilities, has an older sister and cousin that are “on the autism spectrum.”
Tihista was placed on paid administrative leave Monday while the School District investigates if she violated district policy.
“Ms. Tihista was placed on paid administrative leave this morning, pending the outcome of an investigation into the social media allegations we were made aware of last week,” district spokeswoman Heather Konschak said in a statement. “As this is a personnel matter, and the investigation is ongoing, the district has nothing further to say at this time.”
Thista said she teaches middle school boys who can be rowdy but understand her “quirky” sense of humor and sarcasm, which she uses to identify with them. Tihista said her tweets were an extension of that sarcasm that didn’t translate well, but they were not done with malicious intent.
Konshak said the district had not heard of any problems with Tihista’s social media posts until Friday, April 7, when an anonymous group of self-described concerned parents sent a packet of printed-out Twitter posts to media and school officials.
On Monday, Tihista, who is in her first year of teaching, said she was disappointed that parents would send complaints to media without first talking to her or district officials.
“I struggled to understand how it all came down this way,” she said. “The ultimate disappointment is children have been affected because someone chose to go to the media.”
Tihista said she thinks that the “anonymous parents” may actually be someone who is estranged from her life.
“It feels like someone is out to get me,” Tihista said.
The packet included more than 20 pages of tweets from Tihista. Many made references to her work with autistic children, calling mothers of autistic children “monsters” in one post and calling students “satan.” She also disclosed and described interactions with students, sometimes dismissively.
“The best part about being the Autism teacher though is that I don’t ever have to change up my classroom routine, bc we looove routines!,” one tweet said. A few included foul language.
“The receipt of the packet today was the first time our Special Education Director and Liberty Middle School administration had been made aware of any issues with Ms. Tihista,” Konschak said Friday.
Tihista’s Twitter account had been public, meaning anyone could read the posts. But on Friday, April 7, she briefly made it private, only allowing approved followers to view her posts. Then she deleted the account entirely.
She said she doesn’t plan to return to Twitter anytime soon.
Although most callers to “The Jay Thomas Show,” including a mother of a boy who is in Tihista’s class, called in to support the teacher, Tihista told The Forum she is not sure if she would return to her class, whom she calls “family,” if she is allowed.
“I just want to get through this right now,” she said. “I’m trying with all of my heart to have complete ownership of this situation.”
A West Fargo School District policy on social media use by employees notes that while expression on such platforms may be covered by First Amendment protections, teachers can still be disciplined for off-duty conduct or posting unbecoming content.
It wasn’t the first time Tihista made headlines beyond winning the Miss Montana crown in 2014. She claimed she was bullied out of her sorority at Minnesota State University Moorhead, a complaint that led to the sorority being placed on probation for three years.