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. Klumsy

    This is great. We are feeding the children to the wolves in this country.

    August 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. RUFFNUTT

    facebook is killing the usa... farmville turns people into zombies

    August 1, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Paul

    Way to go. Teachers are there to teach, not make friends.

    August 1, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. N/A

    I can understand current students but why ban contact with former students??? This law needs a serious rethinking.

    August 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brandi

      I agree!

      August 1, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. samomulligan

    Article does not say – I wonder if this law is intended to keep teachers in high schools or colleges that work for the state from "friending" students who are over the age of 18. I would think if one of the two people are minors then the state can easily dictate how their employes can communicate with students. It might get more tricky if both people concerned are over the age of 18.

    August 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. The Måd Råp3r

    This strikes me as a free speech issue, but considering the 1984 mindset of most of our politicians, i'm sure that never crossed their filthy corrupted minds.

    Palin 2012—Destroy the system!

    August 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dim Witted Suburbanite

      When ever I look for prophetic and ethical viewpoints I always look for a "Mad Råpěr"

      August 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Wolf

    This is somewhat unnerving – if this happened in my state, I'd be in a tough spot. I can understand it (maybe, but not really) with CURRENT students, but even FORMER students? I now work very closely with a former teacher of mine; I acquired a job at the local college, and when this teacher changed jobs, she became my direct supervisor. We routinely have to communicate privately through FB (about work-related stuff).

    August 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Madame Royale

    I cannot fathom why they would ban former students, unless said students are under 18.
    Even though FB is supposed to be for people 13 and older, we know that younger kids are on it.
    In any case, I would think it would be tricky trying to find out what's going on via private communications...

    August 1, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ron bodin

    Louisiana has a similar law. Any contact between student and teacher is banned and if it occurs, eg club sponsor to student–it must be reported in writing to the principal within 24 hours. A teacher for 38 years, I am all for these measures. My relationship with students is for the length of the class, period.

    August 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ron bodin

    the Louisiana law does not apply to former students. former students now in their 30s and older, often text me. reasonableness is the legal test in these matters.

    August 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I went through public high schools when they functioned very well.
    Often, I spoke privately with my teachers, traveled with then, and talked on the telephone. My parents were not listening to the conversations.
    I would not be successful today if I had not benefited from these deep human contacts with both public-school and private teachers.
    I stayed many nights in my (married) piano teacher's home in another city.
    Really, these teachers did the most important parts of the parenting that I received.
    I was always aware that some kind of intimate physical association might conceivably have happened, but it was out of the question to everybody concerned.
    If this new Missouri thinking and law had prevailed where I grew up, I would not have learned what I did in high school.
    I would not be educated and successful today.

    August 1, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dim Witted Suburbanite

      @Joey: Yeah we'll just feed teenagers to hørny adults and close our eyes about it just because nothing bad happened to you. Great idea.

      August 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TMcT

    Thanks for working on the important sh it, Missouri. Im glad Facebook is more important than trying to figure out how to logically deal with things like our states meth problem and rampant welfare system abuse. What a fu cking waste of my money.

    August 1, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  13. TMcT

    Hey, retards, every adult isnt out there waiting to r a p e your kid. What you are doing is falling prey to overblown media scare tactics, as well as turning your kids into messed up, anti social, xenophobic a holes. Stop trying to force your st upid phobias on everyone else. What you have is a men tal disorder and you need to seek help.

    August 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Nothing bad happened to me or to anybody else in our state.
    Something very bad has now happened to our entire society.
    My public HS class of thirty produced two Fulbright scholars, two doctors, two lawyers, and a concert pianist. Four of us tied for the first two places at graduation.
    Several of us won four-year academic scholarships.
    Something GOOD happened between our friendly teachers and us.

    August 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Fed up with ignorance

    This is the one of the most insidious laws I have ever seen our state waste it's time on. As a Director of Youth Ministry, I come under close scrutiny (as it should be) regarding appropriate relationships with teens. This law does nothing to curtail those few who would cross the lines of appropriateness. What it does is set up a bigger hurdle preventing teachers from being true mentors for the kids they are teaching. This law says in effect "all teachers are perverts and should not be allowed to communicate with children. Children and parents should not trust teachers"
    I can not even imagine trying to communicate in this digital age with teens without being able to use social media. My own children Facebook their teachers, text them or email them on a weekly basis for various reasons and I am sad this might not be allowed in the future. Maybe it is because I am one of those rare parents who understands the internet and also doesn't allow my kids to have a computer in their room. There is a view among many parents that their child's Facebook is private and is akin to a diary. THIS is the real problem, and a misguided message to send our kids. What you do online is NEVER private and it shouldn't be viewed as such.
    The truth is, digital communication allows a traceable line of communication for all those involved. No matter what someone does, nothing on a computer can really ever be erased. That is why you are seeing stories about social media cases (bullying, affairs or inappropriate communication) because it can be proven. Social Media is not causing a problem, it is exposing one.
    Another issue that arises is teaching kids the above. I tell my teens that Facebook is your future college application or future job application. Everything you post is there forever. I call them out when they say things that are out of line or post pictures that should never be online. Should we start sending our kids to parties that are unsupervised because kids should not have any contact with adults?
    We are going to miss the teachable moments of the biggest thing in our children's lives because of ignorance. This is just silly.

    August 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • khen

      Thank you! I am from an entire family of teachers and am a former teacher myself, and it infuriates me that this is just another thing to create distrust of teachers.

      August 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Thank you so much for your post. I could not agree with you more. I am a teacher in Missouri and this law is driving a wedge between the teacher and the rest of society. All of us teachers are not horrible people! I'm actually friends with only a few of my former students but most of them are my relatives so am I not supposed to be friends with them? Others are over the age of 18 and I guess I can't be friends with them either. I'm also friends with many of my former teachers and since I'm a teacher I'm obviously over 18 but are they not allowed to be friends with me anymore? This law needs desperately to be re-tooled.

      August 3, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
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