Missouri law bans some teacher-student contact on Facebook, other sites
A new Missouri law makes it a crime for teachers and students to contact each other privately via social networking sites.
August 1st, 2011
02:54 PM ET

Missouri law bans some teacher-student contact on Facebook, other sites

A new law in Missouri that makes it illegal for teachers to privately contact current or former students on Facebook and other social networking sites is not a friend of education, teaching professionals told CNN on Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham and signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon, is set to take effect August 28, about two weeks after the school year has started for the majority of Missouri schools.

Cunningham was quick to point out Monday that despite what was being circulated on the Web about the law it didn't stop teachers from talking to students online.

"The law doesn't prohibit social media contact," Cunningham told CNN. "If anybody says it does then they have not read the law," she said. "It just stops exclusivity, we just want those conversations to be available to the parents and school districts,” Cunningham said.

So while social networking sites would be OK - as long as the communication was public - conversations that take place, say, in Facebook's built-in e-mail feature or Twitter's direct messaging feature may be unlawful.

When the bill was signed into law last month Cunningham said the measure was needed to make sure schools were aware of sexual misconduct by potential hires and employees.

The controversial section of the law says teachers “cannot have a non-work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said his chapter is investigating whether that portion of the law violates the First Amendment rights of teachers.

“The real danger of the law is that it will chill teachers in engaging in communication not only with students but silence them and prevent them from using the Internet and social networking sites for communicating their personal beliefs about anything really, not just school matters.”

Rothert said the law appears to curtail freedom of speech, “effectively taking them (teachers) out from using social networking for political discussions or anything else.”

The law will be called the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act,” in honor of Amy Hestir, a then-13-year-old who was sexually assaulted by her teacher. The law will also govern hiring referrals for teaching candidates as a way to record sexual misconduct by educators and ensure they don’t hop from district to district.

Vicki Sauter, professor of information systems at the University of Missouri—St. Louis, and a technology advocate who runs social networking workshops for students, said the law is misguided.

“If we’re going to get through to the kids, my philosophy is that you have to get on their level and talk to them their way,” she said. “Their way these days is electronically. What this (law) is doing is taking away a tool that a teacher can use to communicate with their students.”

Sauter said that she understood the law’s intentions though. “The other side of it of course is that there are bad people (predators) out there who are going to do bad things.”

“There are social media sites like LinkedIn where a student may want to put together a page for their career and get advice from a teacher. With this law they can’t do that, so I think it’s short sighted,” she said.

Todd Fuller, a spokesman for the Missouri  State Teachers Association, said the law is a beneficial but creates "some gray areas regarding teacher-student communication and we think it’s going to be clarified within local districts."

He said the onus is on teachers to make sure they are in compliance with the new law. "We have told teachers they need to talk to their specific districts and let them know if they find potential problems," Fuller said.

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Filed under: Facebook • Missouri • Technology • Twitter • U.S.
soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. AZMark

    As a parent of 2 kids, 1 HS and 1 Middle schooler. I require that I am friends with both of them and that I have access to their login info. I monitor who they are friends with and will read their messages. My daughter is "friends " with a couple of her teachers and I am OK with that. I have my childrens security settings setup so that you cannot see their wall unless you are a "friend". I would never allow access to their accounts by administrators or others so they can "monitor" her communications with her teachers, that is my job, not theirs. I am also "friends" with some of her classmates, but I only do that if I know the parents and that they are aware that their child has sent me a "friend" request and are ok with it.

    August 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anonymous

      You sound like one annoying parent.

      August 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paulie

      Really, bc I think you sound like an awesome, responsible parent. It IS the parents' job to police what their kids are doing...not everyone else's. Good job! Most parents haven't got a clue what their kids are doing, or are too busy trying to be their friend and allow them to do anything they want. Parents everywhere need to wake up and get a clue!

      August 9, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  2. Zlatni Retriver

    This is so wrong. If a professor want to do something against the law or morale he will find the way and no ban of service use will stop him.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Marc

    It is a catch 22....there are many teachers who would use the communication for a legit cause.....but let's say that same teacher has a crazy night out drinking and starts messaging a student and says offensive things.....then you have a really messed up situation.

    August 5, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Carole

    I am a high school teacher and I absolutely LOVE using technology in my classroom. However, I would never "friend" a student on Facebook. I've personally decided to not even have a Facebook profile just to make it easier. We need some sort of personal privacy too. For those teachers who form strong connections within the classroom with our students, it is only natural that students want to know more about us as people. They constantly "google" our names to find out as much as they can. We do not need Facebook in order to communicate.

    Our school is using a "school" based Facebook-type website called Edmodo for only school related items. The parents also get access codes to this site. This is more than sufficient in communicating and we can add personal "fun" touches in terms of fun surveys, etc.

    The argument can be made that involved parents should be aware of who their child's friends on Facebook are. This is true. The primary responsibility is that of the parents, but we all recognize that just as their are teachers who sometimes display lack of judgment there are parents who aren't as involved or responsible as they should be.

    My own personal policy is to not friend students. I don't have a problem if my district made it a strict policy.

    August 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. gimpymom

    I doubt the teachers have only one facebook page. They might have one with their students and another for their personal life. My daughter's teacher puts the homework assignments on the facebook page. I am friends with my kids on facebook. shame on the parents who have kids under 18 who don't. You should know what your kid's post, and what their friends post. I don't know what happens in chat, but I am can see enough. Kids need to know what you post, text or write has consequences. I am sure the teachers know this lesson.

    September 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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