Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

Summary: A Missouri teachers group has been granted a 180-day injunction in its fight against the state's new law that prohibits teachers from being Facebook friends with students.

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The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) has managed to win its first battle in blocking a new law regarding social networking with students. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem granted MSTA's request for a preliminary injunction (PDF), effective for 180 days. It will expire on February 20, 2012 and will allow a trial before the statute is implemented.

Beetem found that based upon the evidence, teachers in Missouri use social media as one of their primary forms of communication. He stated that the law "clearly prohibits communication between family members and their teacher parents using these types of sites. The Court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech."

The judge also ordered that under this ruling, teachers cannot be disciplined or suffer adverse consequences for using non-work related social media. "This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn't resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input," Gail McCray, MSTA Legal Counsel, said in a statement.

Last week, the MSTA filed a lawsuit asking the Circuit Court of Cole County to determine the constitutionality of the law's social media portion. The group argues the law infringes on educators' first amendment rights of free speech, association, and religion. It asked the court to keep that section of law from being implemented until the constitutionality can be determined.

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.

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.

The law said teachers would 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 was to be banned.

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Topics: Collaboration, Social Enterprise

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.

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12 comments
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  • RE: Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

    Of course the law is blatantly unconstitutional. That doesn't mean that teachers and students being Facebook friends isn't blatantly stupid though.
    Bill4
    • Agree ....

      @Bill4 .. the issue with the law was that because the way it was written, it disallowed parents and family members from being Facebook friends (FBF). But the liability created by teachers being FBFs is 100% real.
      wackoae
    • Not blatantly unconstitutional

      @Bill4

      Maybe the law needs to be fine-tuned, but I suspect the state is within its rights to limit extracurricular communication with children. Remember that if a teacher engages in inappropriate communication, the school or school district will almost certainly be named as a defendant in any resulting lawsuit.

      When a teacher has reason to communicate with a student regarding any school-related matter, I suggest the communication should be sent to the student using the school's official e-mail system. And it probably would be wise to send a copy to the parents.
      Dogcatcher
  • Better Solution

    Just lock your kids up in your basement until they are 25. Tag them with a GPS device in the ear like a cow so you can track their every movement. Do not allow anyone within 300 yards of your children unless they've passed through four background checks by various state and federal agencies. Clothe your kids clothed in Kevlar so it's impossible to hurt them. Keep them under constant video surveillance to make sure Suzy and Johnny don't try to play "doctor"; two 16 year-old kids trying to have sex just means they're both disgusting pedophiles. Schedule out every last minute of their day so that they are always living a good structured life filled with meaningful activities. Monitor and schedule play time with preselected friends chosen after a long series of negations with the parents of other children. Again make sure all other children pass their background checks. Constantly play motivational tapes in the background so that they know they are important, smart, and special. Monitor all of their internet activity to make sure they don't say something bad about a teacher ? or see a boob ? that turns them into terrorists.
    Glad I?m not a kid.
    Yensi717
    • RE: Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

      @Yensi717

      Excellent suggestions for raising dull little couch potatoes instead of bold, creative, intelligent children.
      DLClark
  • Message has been deleted.

    jre7ek
  • RE: Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

    Block: Sen. Jane Cunningham
    Friend: Judge Jon Beetem
    http://littlebiggy.org/4650388
    littlebiggygirl
  • RE: Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

    this what Missouri senators waste their time on instead of jobs.

    They are luddites.
    Malcolm in St Louis
    • RE: Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

      @Malcolm in St Louis How dare you insult Luddites like that?
      JimSatterfieldW
  • Interesting development

    Thanks for the update.

    I'm not sure I agree with the judge's reason for the injunction, but I suspect giving people more time to understand the law and its implications, and to revise it if necessary, is a good thing.

    Contrary to what you've asserted, the law as its currently written does not mean "teachers and students can't be Facebook friends." That misinterpretation is part of the problem and a major contributor to the backlash.

    Unfortunately, much of the coverage of this issue has been incomplete and/or inaccurate, which has led to significant misunderstanding and misplaced anger. I?ve written a post that offers a broader perspective on the law and the potential benefits of restricting interactions between adults and minor children in cyberspace. This piece also provides an alternative that enables individuals and organizations to reap the benefits of digital interactions while better managing the risks. It?s entitled ?Can We be Friends? In Cyberspace, ?No? May be the Right Answer? and can be accessed via http://tiny.cc/Friends-PDNs.

    Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community
    Founder, Global Center for Digital Era Leadership (GCDEL)
    cshunt312
  • Thank God.

    Because I'm a whole lot more worried about this than I am the Economy, the Trade Deficit, our overall level of debt, healthcare, tax reform, the possible female nutjob that may have a chance to become president (you pick which one)...

    Although I am frightened by the fact that now that this rule has been overturned, Missouri children will start getting molested again.
    UrNotPayingAttention
  • FB can Be A Tool

    Tool is not in used in a pejorative manner here. Teachers, students, and parents being FB friends can aid in classroom, and extra curricular activities. Like all tools hazards of use exist, and precautions should be exercised with use. Teachers will need to get a thicker suit of skin. Parents need to act like parents in a manner greater, than they proved they can reproduce. Student behavior on FB that would be inappropriate in the classroom in any an another school venue, should be dealt with in than manner it would be if it occurred there. Save me the free speech, speech; surely everyone understands that we live with limitations to free speech on a daily basis, and the sun still rises the next morning. In the event non of the foregoing is acceptable, yes can the used of FB by student, and teachers. That will protect students from future ramifications of being ignorant, and stupid study. The world will always be a corporate prison, and will use any dirt they can find against the person. Schools should provide private means to do what Facebook can do, to enhance school activities as in installing email list server applications on the school server. Expect FB to fight anything to protect it's profits. End of rant this reminded me that it's been over a month since I logged into FB :)
    westks