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. Doug

    So I'm not allowed to talk to1`students that contact me via Facebook asking for advice or sharing their successes

    August 2, 2011 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • frank

      You are not allowed to have ex parte communication; that is private without parental or school oversight. What do you want to say that your boss and the kids parents can't read? Are you a perv

      August 2, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil in Oregon

      It's already like that here. Teachers and students can't be 'friends' as long as they are in class together. My son sends in his homework by email, though.

      August 3, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. sgw

    "Former student", any person who was at one time a student
    at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen
    years of age or less and who has not graduated;

    August 2, 2011 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  3. Banasy

    @Andreas Moser:

    That happens sometimes...FB will accidentally delete some profiles.
    It's a glitch.
    Don't take it personally; no conspiracy there.


    Thank you for the clarification.

    August 2, 2011 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  4. TixWoo

    Must really suck to live in MO


    August 2, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tal

    I can almost understand the backwards logic they were following, but no, I just dont get it.

    We have this disturbing reactive culture now that backlashes against entire groups because of the actions of individuals.

    Yes, something horrible happened, but making up a bunch of rules that might stop that specific horrible thing from happening specifically in the way that it happened will not prevent other horrible things from happening.

    Bad things will happen, no matter how hard you try you cant make the world 100% safe. And a lot of innocent people will get hurt for the sake of trying.

    August 2, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil in Oregon

      It's called knee-jerk politics, and if you watch you will see it more and more. The news headlines can get laws passed that no one would ever dream of without them. Remember Obama shutting down oil drilling in the Gulf, even though none of the other companies was having problems?

      August 3, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  6. Kim

    And this is exactly why so many young people, who would make wonderful teachers, are choosing other professions. Why make a salary that's barely over the poverty level only to have every aspect of your life controlled? I hope the ACLU can get this overturned or at least changed in some way. What's next? Putting cameras in every classroom so no teacher can have a private conversation with a student? For some students, a teacher is the only person they have to discuss problems with (especially problems at home). If someone is a bad person, they will do bad things whether there's a law against it or not. This goes to show that laws created out of a reaction to a negative event (like Caylee's law) are flawed and generally bad ideas.

    August 2, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. JJ

    Let me get this straight. ""Former student", any person who was at one time a student
    at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen
    years of age or less and who has not graduated;"

    So if the teacher moves to another school then they are NOT former students.

    If they are under 18 years and have graduated they are NOT former students.

    Someone who went to a school 10 years before the teacher arrived IS a former student.

    What school did the person who drafted this piece of junk NOT graduate from.

    August 2, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. AK47

    Cunnyy Bunnyy

    August 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. frank

    You are not allowed to have ex parte communication; that is private without parental or school oversight. What do you want to say that your boss and the kids parents can't read? Are you a perv?

    August 2, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jen

    How will they be monitoring tutoring after school? I think that there is a lot more criminal acts that can occur when students are in direct contact with teachers.... When a student struggles, should we stop helping them after school, in case something might be said that the district or parents can't hear? My district needs to get a bigger server so that my email can handle the size of powerpoints and projects that students submit. I have been told not to allow students to use flash drives on my computer because of viruses that they bring in.... oh well, I guess the tax payers can foot that bill or I can just teach old school from the book.

    August 2, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. angela

    as a parent in Missouri, I am all for this. too many teachers want to be the 'buddy' and play favorites with those kids in their inner circle. if they need to contact the kid, call home or talk to the parent or keep them after school. our system here is failing and those teachers that need to retire or better yet, get fired, don't because of tenure. those that are rising stars and excited about their job get laid off because they have no tenure. seems a little off to me. all across this nation our education system sucks. pay is crappy, tenured teachers are for the most part, burnt out, etc. i could go on, but, i took action and pulled my kid and now homeschool. oh, and i didn't pull him because i felt he was ignored because he was not in the inner sanctum of the teachers. i pulled him due to his issues that were not addressed and ignored. We have since discovered he does have aspergers and all my concerns were real and not a single person in two school systems listened.

    August 3, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Brett

      If you were really a parent in Missouri, you would know that Missouri eliminated tenure several years ago.

      August 4, 2011 at 4:24 am | Report abuse |
    • angela

      Brett, I am a parent in Missouri with parents that retired as teachers and yes butt head tenure is still going strong in Missouri so kiss off

      August 10, 2011 at 9:08 am | Report abuse |
  12. Kim

    Once again another knee jerk reaction by the uninformed. I will not stop being networking friends with former students as many of them are fighting for our government's right to be stupid.

    August 3, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  13. Shahbaz Mughal

    Very Best Website about Law and Legal cause....


    August 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Education4All

    I see negatives and postives to this. I think it may make it harder for educators to incorporate social networking in their classrooms and to use the platform as a means to engage students in classroom lessons. Although there is a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate communication on facebook, I think we will be seeing facebook used a lot more by teachers.
    online m.ed.

    August 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. irishlas

    This law is ridiculous!!!!! Cutting down the communication between teachers and students is awful and will absolutely hinder the success of students. I have students contact me all the time (mostly via email, but its still a "exclusive communication") for homework help or college advice! This is awful, HUGE step backwards for education in America, we will never catch up if laws like this keep popping up!

    August 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
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