When news broke last month that Newark teacher Krista Hodges used Twitter to express her desire to stab some of her students and pour hot coffee on them, the questions arose quickly: Aren't there rules about that? Why wasn't she fired?
The answer is that teachers who use social media are living in the Wild West: Rules are few and far between, and discipline for stepping over the line is a hit-or-miss proposition.

In Hodges' case, she acknowledged receiving a written reprimand from her school district. After this newspaper's disclosure of her tweets, local police initiated an investigation into the matter. In other cases, teachers have been fired for much less.

"We're not given any guidelines, really," said Carissa Weintraub, a science teacher at Ygnacio Valley High in Concord and a Twitter user. "At this point, it's sort of a free-for-all and we're learning as we go along. I've heard horror stories across the country about people losing their jobs after posting stuff on Twitter or on Facebook."

Weintraub added that teachers need to be trained how to use social media "the same way students need to be taught how to use it."

Newark Unified School District Interim Superintendent Tim Erwin said the district, like many others, has no policy on teacher use of social media nor does it have written guidelines for dealing with teachers who go too far.

Eric Goldman, a law professor and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, said the drafting of policies is not easy.

"Some school districts are making rules," Goldman said. "But it requires careful thought. The policy has to navigate between legitimate use of social media and the free speech rights of employees. School districts basically have to tell their teachers not to do anything stupid online. That's the gist of it."

Or as Ligia Giese, a Berkeley mother of two students in public schools, put it, it's about respect.
"I think if you're talking about your job, whether it's in public, on the Internet or in any other forum, I would like the teacher to have respect for the students," Giese said. "I couldn't pinpoint the wording of the rule, but I would expect a teacher, like any professional, would speak with a Teachers and social media: trekking on treacherous terrain - Inside Bay Area: