Missouri has been in national headlines this week for enacting a new law that aims to put the kibosh on inappropriate teacher-student online relationships. Under the new law, those two groups can no longer be friends or otherwise communicate directly on Facebook.
The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which takes effect Aug. 28, creates a range of rules for reporting and preventing sexual abuse of students. The crux of the law is that school districts must report any allegations of sexual abuse to state authorities within 24 hours, and they must disclose any suspected or known abuse by past employees to other public school districts that ask.
And then, in Section 162.069, there’s the mandate that’s garnered the nickname “the Facebook law” for this legislation:
By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must 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
This has raised a lot of hackles among teachers in the state. As this MSNBC article notes, one teacher in Joplin wrote on her blog that the new law forces her and other teachers to “trash years worth of work” in communicating with students via social networking “because all teachers are potential criminals.”
A teacher I know in the St. Louis area, who worked with high-schoolers earlier in her career and now teaches at the middle school level in a Catholic grade school, wrote on her Facebook page yesterday: “While I don’t typically friend my current students, am I really such a threat that this has to go into effect? Sorry to any former students because supposedly I should never have contact with you now.”
It’s worth noting that teachers are being encouraged to create public “pages” on Facebook to communicate classroom information and share school photos. I’m interested in seeing how those work out. But if their online presence involves one-on-one communication with students, it will run afoul of the new law.
The new law isn’t without precedent. Another MSNBC piece notes that Louisiana enacted a similar law in 2009.