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Missouri Teachers Seek Clarity on New Law Prohibiting Them From "Friending" Students

Categories: Politics
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Some teachers are giving the new law a big thumbs down.
Under a new Missouri law, teachers who "friend" a current or former student on Facebook could soon run afoul of state codes.

Senate Bill 54 first raised flags back in June when a teacher urged its veto after he used Facebook to help locate students missing following the devastating tornado in his hometown of Joplin. His protest, though, fell on deaf ears as Governor Jay Nixon sign the bill into law July 14.

Officially named the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act" after a girl who was sexually violated by her teacher, most of SB 54 aims at culling sexual predators from school faculties. But it's the provision dealing with social media that's generating the most inquiries into the Missouri State Teachers Association.

"Ironically, we're getting a lot of questions about it on our Facebook page," MSTA's communications director, Todd Fuller, tells Daily RFT.

The new law states that teachers "cannot establish, maintain or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian." The legislation also bans teachers from using "a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student."

That description would seem to make it illegal for teachers to interact with students via Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media. But the new law also leaves it up to individual districts to set up a specific written policy regarding appropriate teacher-student communication in social networking circles. And therein lies the rub, with the MSTA concerned that standards for social-media interaction will vary widely between districts.

"The definitions in the bill are pretty vague," says Fuller. "Does it mean that a teacher from a small town who has nephews and nieces in a class, and is also friends with them on Facebook, is in violation? Or what about a teacher who has a group Facebook page for his or her class? Beyond Facebook, the law also seems to impact third-party sites like Blackboard or Virtual Classroom where teachers interact with students."

As a result, the teachers' association is now asking its 44,000 members to tell it how they use social media to interact with students and how they'd rewrite the law to provide for the safe use of the technology. MSTA then hopes to take that information to legislators in the fall.

"We didn't oppose the bill as a whole because there are good parts in it that protect children," says Fuller. "But by the same token, we're hoping state legislators will be open to hearing our concerns and allowing us a safe platform for communicating with students." 

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Ssoe
Ssoe

The law actually prevents a teacher from using a website that ALLOWS them to be friends with students or former students under 19.  Facebook allows that, whether or not a teacher uses the feature.  So, teachers CANNOT use Facebook.  (The law was written by people who have no idea how social media operate...)

John Ross
John Ross

Quote: "The law actually prevents a teacher from using a website that ALLOWS them to be friends with students or former students under 1[8].  Facebook allows that, whether or not a teacher uses the feature.  So, teachers CANNOT use Facebook.  (The law was written by people who have no idea how social media operate...)" End quote.

You've nailed it.  I'm now in my 50s, and have never been employed by a school district.  However, I HAVE done a fair amount of math tutoring, mostly HS age children of college professors in a college town where the professor's field was in History or somesuch and he or she was no good at helping with HS level math.  This was when I myself was in college and 3-6 years older than the kids I was tutoring.

We obviously didn't have social media sites in the 1970s, but I well remember on many occasions being asked for advice or information that the student wouldn't necessarily want everyone, including parents, to see.  Examples:

"I want to get a decent summer job, but I don't know the best way to go about it.  Should I write up a resume? I'm a high school kid with no work experience--is a resume a dumb idea for someone like me?  And what should I do or not do on a job interview?"

"What's college really like?  And how do you decide where you want to go?  I don't have a clue."

"There's this girl I want to ask to the prom.  My Dad says just 'Be myself,' but he doesn't have any idea what the girls in my school are like.  He's almost 50.  You were my age a few years ago.  When you were sixteen, did you feel like an idiot every time you were around a girl you really liked?"

"I want to play football but my parents are worried about me getting hurt.  I don't know how to talk to them about it."

Given the fact that social media is becoming a major way for people, especially young people, to interact, banning teachers from using FB is crazy.  Your last sentence is unfortunately true for MUCH of the legislation that is passed, of all types.  I've been involved with political issues for almost thirty years, and quite often the sponsors are blind to the law of Unintended Consequences.

JR

Cassie
Cassie

I am a recent high school graduate from a rural town and this whole law is total bs. I had a teacher that had a separate profile for students and parents to stay updated with whats going on and I would contact another teacher by messaging on fb, even though we weren't fb friends, in order to get some event info about the club she sponsored so i could tell others. Facebook is a public site so anything they say on their walls or statuses are public and around here many are actually related to their teachers. It should be up to the teacher if they want to friend or not. Most teachers around here chose to wait till theyre graduated so they dont have to worry about seeing stuff that teenagers do in their spare time. I was actually pretty close with some of my teachers and had their cell numbers. Isn't that almost like being friends on facebook? 

Anon
Anon

As noted, In the legislation "Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated." Also Blackboard or Moodle would be ok since they are " available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian." Probably going to be ok - this just bans Facebooking current minor students which is a little creepy anyway.

Guest
Guest

It seems Blackboard or Moodle would only be okay if the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian is given an account as well as the child.

Matt Hay
Matt Hay

The real question is whether or not this is really the proper role of the state government. If we do not trust our teachers and coaches to be responsible and professional in all of their interactions, then they should not be teaching our kids in the first place. We have laws against inappropriate contact between an adult and a minor. If the government can regulate this, what other otherwise legal contact or conduct can they regulate? There are positive outcomes of this interaction. Say a student posts some Columbine Style rant on their Facebook page, or indicates they are in trouble with drugs, gangs, etc, would it not be a good thing for that educator to make the relevent parties aware of this?

Jon Roosmann
Jon Roosmann

As a 31 year old man, I can't be friends with a former (now retired) teacher, who goes to my church, on Facebook? Stupid law...

Edit: Here's the wording of the bill, which negates my above comment:

Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Allong08
Allong08

No, that isn't what the bill says.  Once a student turns 18 and is no longer in the school district (via graduation/moving) then you may friend them. 

Aringen89
Aringen89

How does this apply to students who are family in your school district? 

Chad Garrison
Chad Garrison

That's a question the MSTA official points out in this post. The law is unclear but seems to suggest you'd have to de-friend the family member.

Peggy Keller
Peggy Keller

If they are just in the school district, it does not apply. This is for actual students of the teacher. Most schools do not place students with relatives as teachers unless their are no other options.

Ckuntz30
Ckuntz30

If what you have posted is correct then you can, as a 31 year-old, be online friends with a former teacher because you are not an individual who is 'eighteen years of age or less who has not graduated.'

Jon Roosmann
Jon Roosmann

That's why my post also says the wording of the bill negates my comment. :-)

Aurora Meyer
Aurora Meyer

Jon,You're right. The law is specific to students in school districts in Missouri who are under 18. 

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