Missouri Outlaws Teacher-Student Facebook Friendship

Are teachers not to be trusted?

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According to Missouri Senate Bill 54, just signed by state Governor Jay Nixon, any social networking is prohibited between teachers and students. This includes not only Facebook, but any social network "that is exclusive and allows for private communication," according to Springfield, Mo., ABC affiliate KSPR.

How did this measure come about? Mashable notes that "inappropriate contact between students and teachers is at the root of the legislation," which is "designed to protect children from sexual misconduct by teachers, compelling school districts to adopt written policies between teachers and students on electronic media, social networking and other forms of communication."

From the summary of the bill [previously we indicated this was from the language in the bill itself. The actual bill can be found here]:

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.

And from the statutory language itself:

162.069. 1. Every school district shall, by January 1, 2012, 2 promulgate a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communication. Such policy shall contain at least the following elements:
4.    No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a nonwork-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as prohibiting a teacher from establishing a nonwork related internet site, provided the site is used in accordance with this section.

(1)    "Exclusive access", the information on the website is available only to the owner (teacher) and user (student) by mutual explicit consent and where third parties have no access to the information on the website absent an explicit consent agreement with the owner (teacher);


(3) "Nonwork-related internet site", any internet website or web page used by a teacher primarily for personal purposes and not for educational purposes;

So how has this been received? The law certainly seems to give the peculiar message that teachers are not to be trusted. Mashable reacts that "on the surface this sounds like a good idea," although they question how it would be policed: "Inappropriate relationships will be hard to detect, especially since teachers and students engaged in such relationships would probably be concealing their communications, electronic or otherwise." Well if we learned anything from Weiner, it's to never underestimate how sloppy adults are when concealing inappropriate behavior online. So perhaps even these rudimentary precautions may be preventative?

But some find the law misguided. Randy Turner blogged that the law was signed "in spite of the positive effect that teachers and students being Facebook friends had on Joplin Schools' effort to locate students after the May 22 tornado.[and] in spite of considerable evidence that social networking has been a positive force in education, and little or no evidence to the contrary."

But the law is not entirely restrictive. The "direct contact" part is key to the prohibition; KSPR notes that, "for example, a teacher cannot be friends with a student on a private Facebook profile where you can pick and choose friends and send private messages, but teachers can set up a fan page."  Nonetheless, the message sent by this law may discourage teachers from using social netoworking to interact with students altogether.

Update: Kit Crancer, the chief of staff for state senator Jane Cunningham, the principal sponsor of the bill, indicated to us that the sponsor does not actually intend to ban Facebook-friending between teachers and students. We will update if we receive a statement on behalf of Jane Cunningham. Additionally, we have also reached out to the legal department of the Missouri National Education Association, and we will update with an additional post should they give us further information regarding how school districts are interpreting this bill.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.