Should the teachers be punished for personal tweets? Yes

Ever since Twitter’s creation in 2006, the social media giant has accumulated hundreds of millions of users. For many, Twitter is the place for people to speak their minds, no matter what their mood. The same may be said of Newark Memorial High School teacher Krista Hodges. Since April, Hodges has done exactly that — expressing her anger and resentment towards people on Twitter over a span of over two months. Tweets from her now deleted account, @kree49, did not specify any individual target, but consistently used hateful and potentially threatening remarks towards one specific group of people — her students. For months, tweets such as “I already want to stab some kids. Is that bad? 19 more days” have floated around on her feed, until one colleague screenshotted her page and reported it to the Newark Memorial High School administration. Her punishment? Hodges was recently disciplined with only a written reprimand and has apologized for her actions, as the Newark Unified School District had not previously established a policy to combat such behavior. Additionally, a police investigation regarding Hodges’ malicious messages on Twitter towards general crowds of students has now begun.

In this particular scenario, it is fair to question two things: why, from a moral standpoint, has the Newark Unified School District has issued Hodges with what really translates to only a sharply worded warning and why does Hodges still choose to teach high school students, given her two month-plus string of rants on Twitter that seem to show she would want otherwise?

Not many school districts establish teachers union contracts that enforce online safety and sanity due to its previously difficult nature. The same is also true of the Newark Unified School District, as there has never been an incident even remotely related to the situation Hodges finds herself in. As of now the written reprimand seems to serve as the only truly valid and legal justification for an offense that lacks a set consequence, according to Newark Unified School District Interim Superintendent Tim Erwin.

Because of this and many other series of events across the nation, debates over free speech have sparked as the amount of questionable content teachers post across the nation has drastically increased over the years Twitter has developed. As cases of malicious threats have surfaced on the internet, it is time we really evaluate the extent of freedom of speech online, as cases of cyber threats and cyber bullying have risen at alarming rates. Despite the lack of documentation and reprimand for such actions, the recent incidents regarding Hodges’ tweets ought to be set as new precedent for the suspension and/or dismissal of a teacher.

It is important to note that Hodges did not show remorse of any sort directly after her first tweet. Frankly, she displayed no public concern of her tweets until she was notified that the tweets were inappropriate.

Although it is understandable if she were to delete her tweets within days, all she did in the weeks and months after was post more harmful tweets. Some of the tweets may not seem as alarming, such as “Ya know what sucks about summer school? The kids I can’t stand, who failed, will be in that class. #SummerRuined”, but rather may be seen as a sarcastic, lighthearted tweet. However, to go as far as to say “So happy to be done w/school for 10 days, but especially to be away from the ones who truly try my patience & make my trigger finger itchy” may be pushing the limit, as this may be and is interpreted by some as a legitimate threat to life especially given the numerous recent tragic school shootings across the nation. Although she has since apologized to the public and deleted her account, there still currently stands no guarantee that Hodges or any other worker will not physically lash out on other peers with weapons in real life.

Considering others across the nation have been dismissed from their teaching jobs in school districts across the nation, it comes off as surprising to me as to why Hodges only received a written reprimand for her actions. When a Pennsylvania teacher created a blog to insult her students, generally referring to them as spoiled, sneaky children, the courts ruled that her insults, despite being arguably less brazen than that of Hodges’, were not protected by the first amendment “because her comments were not a matter of legitimate ‘public concern,’ an oft-used standard in cases of free speech rights of public employees.”, according to the San Jose Mercury.

Santa Clara University law professor and co-director of the High Tech Law Institute Eric Goldman adds that whether or not Hodges was really joking around when she wrote her tweets, she has definitely crossed some sort of line.

“We all joke about the ways that we could maliciously behave in our jobs,” Goldman said in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News. “That’s gallows humor. Going online gets problematic. With (Hodges) it was not just a joke, it was a running theme. At some point it crosses over from being a joke to a warning sign. When it comes to government employees, we need to believe they are exercising their discretion properly because they are acting on behalf of the public.”

In comparison, if a student were to direct malicious threats at any individuals—even without naming specific names—or threaten to harass others physically, in person or on social media, consequences would include a minimum of a suspension and possible ACS counseling meetings; not to mention the possible criminal charges filed against such a juvenile. For an adult to act this way against other students would prove more socially and ethically unjust, as not only would the adult be held to higher expectations, the criminal penalties would be even greater as well.

We must also question why Hodges even wants to continue teaching in the Newark Unified School District, as she has expressed great disinterest to her students and tweeted as if she regretted her career path. Teaching is a career path often influenced by his or her admiration for the students in his or her classes, and because many may feel endangered by her presence, they may not view Hodges with the same prestige as she would be potentially hindered from being seen as a top notch teacher by these students. In addition to this, her tweets tarnish the school district’s image, as it may be viewed as a district that does not necessarily prioritize student safety.

Such a security risk in public schools ought not to remain, and the most precautionary and reassuring means of action would be to either suspend or dismiss Hodges from the school district. If the district does not do this, more will  follow in her footsteps.