Law repealed: teachers can be Facebook friends with students

State Governor Jay Nixon has repealed a law that would have banned teachers and students from being friends on Facebook.

The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) has finally won its war against a new law regarding social networking with students. State Governor Jay Nixon has repealed the recently passed law and has signed Senate Bill 1 (PDF). In a signing statement, Nixon wrote that SB1 "is not perfect, but the alternative of educators having to conform to the unreasonable restrictions of the Senate Committee Substitute of Senate Bill No. 54 is a far worse result."

Last month, the Missouri House passed the new bill in a vote of 139 to 2 after the Senate passed the new bill unanimously. SB1 requires every school district to have a written policy concerning employee-student communication by March 1, 2012, but does not specify what the policy should include.

Three months ago, Nixon signed Senate Bill 54, which was supposed to go into effect on August 28, 2011 in the state of Missouri. It included many other provisions that MSTA supported, and which remain untouched by this change.

The bill, 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.

Among other things, it was meant to ban 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.

The law was written broadly enough to prohibit teachers from communicating privately with students over the Internet, inhibiting educators' ability to converse with students via text messaging and social networks. As I outlined two months ago, teachers and students couldn't be Facebook friends, since the communication had to be visible to both the district and parents.

Many teachers and administrators interpreted this to mean that teachers would be forbidden to contact students via Facebook or text message, and that they could also not use educational products such as Moodle. Furthermore, many teachers feared they would be penalized for being friends with their own children on Facebook.

Now that SB1 has replaced SB54, teachers no longer need to worry about communicating with students via social networks.

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