Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

Summary: A Missouri teachers group is fighting the state's new law that prohibits them from being Facebook friends with their students.


The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) filed a lawsuit on Friday, challenging a new law. MSTA is specifically asking the Circuit Court of Cole County to determine the constitutionality of the law's social media portion.

Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, aims to fight inappropriate contact between students and teachers, including protecting children from sexual misconduct by their educators. It is named after a Missouri public school student who was repeatedly molested by a teacher several decades ago.

The new law is broad enough to prohibit teachers from communicating privately with students over the Internet, and inhibits educators' ability to converse with students via text messaging and social networks. As I outlined earlier this month, it means teachers and students can't be Facebook friends.

MSTA argues the law infringes on educators' first amendment rights of free speech, association, and religion. The group is asking the court to keep that section of law from being implemented until the constitutionality can be determined.

"Many of our members are concerned about the unintended consequences of this law, including their ability to monitor their own children's online activities," Gail McCray, MSTA Legal Counsel, said in a statement. "It's vague and more importantly, we believe it violates the constitutional rights of educators."

"Plaintiffs have used and are using non-work-related social networking sites as an important avenue for contact with students, both during emergencies and for everyday educational issues, such as when a student has difficulty with a classroom assignment or identifying bullying," the lawsuit states. "Senate Bill 54 makes it unlawful for Plaintiffs who are also parents of a child in the school district to communicate with her student/child via a non-work-related social networking site if there could be exclusive access."

Last month, State Governor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 54, which goes into effect on August 28, 2011 in the state of Missouri. The new law bans direct social networking contact between teachers and students in the hopes of setting more distinct boundaries on the relationships between the two.

Teachers will still be able to have a Facebook Page for interacting with students on a slightly more personal level, as long it's still work-related. It's the actual friending, messaging, and whatever other direct connection you can make on a social network that will not be allowed.

It's still not clear how Missouri plans to implement the law, whether social networks will be asked play a part in the enforcement, nor if the state be allowed access to Facebook accounts, personal computers, and/or ISP records. It is, however, obvious that the language used to describe the law is too general and overreaching, at least according to many of the state's teachers.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Collaboration

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

    What about Google + with the circles?
    • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

      Also banned.
      • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students


        Google+ isn't supposed to be used by people under 18 anyway. (At least currently)
      • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

        @Empro How do you know this? The author of the bill has clarified what she meant: <a href="http://www.semissourian.com/story/1753125.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.semissourian.com/story/1753125.html</a>

        <blockquote>Communication on Facebook between teachers and students is not prohibited by the law, Cunningham said. Teachers are also allowed to keep their personal pages and can use Facebook and other social media as they always have but cannot engage in private messaging with students. The law covers all students, current and former, until they turn 19 or graduate.</blockquote>
  • Not sure what side I'm on this one

    On one hand, it may be inappropriate for teachers to be "FB friends" with students. It could open the flood gates to liability for the schools.

    On the other hands, having teachers as friends means that they can help and guide students outside the class room with minimal effort. They could also see patterns of problems and address them quickly.

    But the sad part is that if a student post something and a teacher misses the "cry for help" before a suicide or the student is killed (drug or fight), that could potentially cause tons of legal problems not only to the teacher, but also to the school.
  • The law is a great idea

    A child being Facebook friends with a teacher not only puts them in personal contact with the teacher, but also exposes the child to all the teacher's personal activities and messages, since the child's news feed will then contain all the teacher's personal updates.<br><br>With all the tremendous Internet resources available to all schools these days (such as Homework Hero, etc.), there is absolutely no need whatsoever for students to be connecting to teachers through social networks.<br><br>If there are extreme cases here and there -- such as a parent also being their child's teacher -- then to be honest, I'm not all that concerned that they will have to sacrifice their "friending" activities. What, should we worry about the 1-in-1 million chance of that happening, and base our opposition to the law on that edge case? That's called "lack of common sense." Maybe it's what they teach in schools these days.
    • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

      @Speednet <br><br>1-in-1 million chance is pushing it. It really isn't that unlikely in smaller towns to have a parent as a teacher.<br><br>You also suggest there are other internet resources, but the bill is currently written so broadly that it includes any website that allows exclusive contact with a student. Any website where a teacher can send a private message to a student is banned as far as I can tell. Heck, what is to stop someone from interpreting the bill to include banning teachers from having gmail or hotmail accounts? The language just says a teacher "cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student." That is vague to the point of being indefensible. First of all, "having a website" isn't even a concept that makes sense in this context, unless someone is running a website. So let's assume they mean "be a member of" or "have an account on". Well, anything that gives you the ability to e-mail a student falls under that umbrella doesn't it?<br><br>I also wanted to comment that I think the title of this article is misleading... I don't think teachers are clamoring to be FB friends with students. I just think they feel slammed yet again by a blanket policy that treats them like criminals.<br><br>If there isn't a law that prohibits a teacher from using a social media site to <b>inappropriately</b> communicate with a student then there should be one, but an outright ban on one:one communication between teacher and student is soviet.
      • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

        @willswords@... I don't think you understand the law. It's not the hysterical approach you seem to have taken here, and it's certainly not "Soviet".<br><br>The scare tactics you embody are exactly the same ones employed by the teachers' unions across the country in order to limit parents' abilities to regulate what goes on in the schools.<br><br>Besides, I think my message made clear that I believe ANY friending from teacher to student is bad (there is no separate "inappropriate" category) because Facebook is based on casual interaction, and the students would be exposed to all the teachers' casual interactions.
    • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

      @Speednet The author of the bill has clarified that it wasn't even intended to do what everyone is interpreting it to do (e.g. ban facebook friending):<br><br><a href="http://www.semissourian.com/story/1753125.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.semissourian.com/story/1753125.html</a></a></a></a><br>I think I would be able to support a reasonable bill that helps prevent inappropriate communication between students and teachers... this one just isn't it.<br><br>
      I would tend to agree that I think it is usually inappropriate for teachers and minor-age students to be Facebook friends. I just don't think there should be a law dictating this.
  • I wish there were penalties for laws this terrible

    Having reviewed the text of the statutes in question, I suspect that any court properly applying the law will have little choice but to declare it unconstitutional. Also, the comment that "there is absolutely no need whatsoever for students to be connecting to teachers through social networks" is just moronic. Please, oh great guru of necessity, define "social network" for us. Oh and while you're at it, make sure you do it in a way that doesn't run afoul of the vagueness doctrine in Due Process law that prohibits statutes where reasonable people "could differ as to the statute's meaning or application."

    Anyhow, aside from the fact that this law presumes that all teachers are criminals and that there are plenty of other ways to protect students from the few misguided teachers out there, this law as written is pretty difficult to understand. Teachers are prohibited from "having" any "internet site" that allows "exclusive access to a current or former student" and defines "exclusive access" as an internet site where "the information on the website" is available only to the teacher and the student "absent an explicit consent agreement with the owner (teacher)." What in the world does that mean?

    The even bigger problem is the absolute prohibition on having "exclusive access" with any "current or former student." It defines "former student" as a minor that was once a student at the teacher's school and who has not graduated, but does not define "current student" at all. Virtually everyone under eighteen is a student SOMEWHERE, so the law amounts to a near-absolute prohibition on directly communicating with ANY minor ANYWHERE, including--as the MSTA has argued--a teacher's own children and relatives.

    The courts have made it clear for almost a century that "the government may not prohibit speech because it increases the chance an unlawful act will be committed at some indefinite future time." This is so clearly unconstitutional (for the law geeks out there, it is a "prior restraint" and "substantially overbroad") that it makes me wish there were penalties for the lawmakers who introduce and pass such garbage. I for one will be glad when all the morons who don't understand the most basic concepts of modern technology but have their finger on the legislative trigger are dead and/or gone. Maybe new people will start sensibly using flyswatters to kill flies, instead of blindly firing RPG's at them hoping to make the buzzing go away like the current squad is fond of.
    • You don't sound like a parent

      @CncnrdCitizn Your analysis of "current student" is not even close to the mark, but setting that aside, your remarks do not sound like they are coming from a parent of a school-age child. I can tell you that most parents of school-age children worry deeply about these issues, since the tools and resources for dealing with these matters are fleeting, and it is becoming increasingly easy for an unscrupulous adult to gain personal (and secret) access to your child.
      • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

        @Speednet Nice Ad Hominem
      • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

        @willswords - You don't appear to understand what "Ad Hominem" means.
  • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

    Strange. So they outlaw something that by all accounts is almost always harmless. There are already laws about inappropriate contact I presume. Would it be illegal for a teacher to chat with their students at the mall should they happen to run into each other? Why limit it to electronic communication? This law seems hamfisted to me.
  • Who wants this?

    The students? The Teachers? The parents?

    My wife taught school for 30+ years and feels that older people (you fill in who is older) should not be in direct (and possibly covert) comminication, such as social media, with students. Meeting/saying hi to a student in a public venue is different that what can transpire in private through a computer. There have been enough incidents of teachers in inappropriate relationships with students without making it easier.

    Missouri teachers GET A LIFE AND A BRAIN.
  • This law is cookoo.

    As a teacher I have no interest in connecting with students through facebook or any other site. I prefer my privacy and I really don't need to connect in this way. If students need to talk to me, they know when I'm available at school. I have a few colleagues who do. I don't think it is wise for them. I think there are too many risks involved even if there are some benefits. That being said, I don't think we need a law on this. Are we going to make teachers criminals because they allowed a student to friend them. That's crazy. That's too much government intervention. I think it would be wise for the district to set up a code of conduct that says we do not want teachers friending students. Teachers who friend students will be subject to potential consequences. It's pretty simple for the district to set this up. Teachers who want their jobs won't risk it (usually). Making teachers criminals for friending is cookoo.
  • RE: Missouri teachers fight to be Facebook friends with students

    There are so many problems with including the Facebook exclusion as part of this law it is difficult to know where to start on one hand, and on the other the explanations of those problems seem too ludicrous to have to spell out to a reasonably intelligent person to begin with. This portion of this law is so overly broad that this reader wonders why the teachers are not even more up in arms about the fact the law implies that they are all criminals. Communication through a social network could be no different than a chance encounter or meeting after class for extra help; however unlike those two examples there is extra protection for both the teacher and the student. For reasons unknown to me many people still seem to think the internet a private and secretive venue. Professor A need only take a screen shot of Sally B's inappropriate suggestion to protect himself. Measures also exist as reporting and enforcement of rules governing bullying and inappropriate behavior. And please let me add, for the sadly uninformed, a person may choose who may see posts by whom. A teacher could make social contacts with their peers unavailable to any students they'd also friended. @CncnrdCitizn, you hit just the right chord with your constitutional arguments. Does the 1st and 4th amendment only apply to the other 49 states?
  • blocked