Education Law

Missouri Outlaws Teacher-Student Facebook Friendships


Updated: A new Missouri law set to take effect later this month is aimed at more clearly defining teacher-student boundaries.

But critics say portions of Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, go too far in limiting social media contact between teachers and their students.

Even though it’s being referred to as the “Facebook law,” the law’s scope goes well beyond a single popular social network and instead covers any contact teachers would have with students via social media, according to reports in MSNBC’s Digital Life and KSPR ABC Channel 33.

The legislation specifically directs all school districts to develop a written policy regarding teacher-student communication by Jan. 1, 2012 and notes that each policy much include: “appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as 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.”

One Joplin middle school teacher blogged about the law, saying it was misguided and crediting Facebook friendships between teachers and students with helping the district locate children after the tornado there. On his blog, The Turner Report, Randy Turner blasts the law as overreaching and failing to consider “evidence that social networking has been a positive force in education.”

The station notes that not all teacher-student contact on Facebook or other social media is forbidden, just direct contact. Teachers can’t friend students on private profiles. But teachers can set up fan pages that are open to the public.

The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon, is set to go into effect on Aug. 28.

Also see:

Seattle Times: “Teachers and students can’t be ‘friends’”

Updated at 11:55 a.m. to correct MSNBC’s reference to Randy Turner.

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