Missouri teachers win fight to be Facebook friends with students

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.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

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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