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State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) said teachers are misunderstanding the new law  (Source: wordpress.com)
A new Missouri state law, which takes effect on August 28, will forbid teachers from having "exclusive access" with students who have not yet graduated (or are minors) on Internet sites

A Missouri teachers group filed a lawsuit on Friday to battle a new measure that restricts teachers from contacting students on social networking sites.

A new Missouri state law, which takes effect on August 28, will forbid teachers from having "exclusive access" with students who have not yet graduated (or are minors) on Internet sites. The law aims to prevent inappropriate contact between teachers and students by restricting outside-of-school contact to email and texts, as long as "someone is copied," and to public sites that can be viewed by parents, administrators or the public. In other words, no private messages, such as those on Facebook. It was put in place after an Associated Press investigation found that 87 Missouri teachers had lost their licenses between 2001 and 2005 due to sexual misconduct.

In response to this measure, the Missouri State Teachers Association filed a lawsuit against the state, Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster on Friday saying that the new law violates free speech and other constitutional rights.

"[The law] is so vague and overbroad that the plaintiffs cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted and what it prohibited and thereby 'chills' the exercise of first amendment rights of speech, association, religion, collective bargaining and other constitutional rights by school teachers," states the lawsuit.

The Missouri State Teachers Association added that some students require the contact available on social networking sites because they are either too shy to speak to the teacher directly, or want to address sensitive issues like problems with homework and bullying.

Missouri teachers also noted that the law, being ambiguous in their opinion, could go as far as forbidding teachers from having a Facebook altogether.

"It doesn't stop any avenue of communication whatsoever," said State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), who supports the new law. "It only prohibits hidden communication between educators and minors who have not graduated."

Cunningham also noted that the new law doesn't ban teachers from having a Facebook page altogether.

In addition to preventing teachers from communicating exclusively with individual students on social sites, the law will require schools to release information regarding a teacher who has sexually abused students in other school districts. It will allow a lawsuit if a teacher were to come from another school district where he or she sexually abused a student, and the school did not disclose this information and the employee committed the act once again. Missouri teachers were on board with this part of the law.

This bill was supported by many educational organizations including the Missouri State Teachers Association, and it won a large amount of support in the Legislature this year. But according to Missouri State Teachers Association spokesman Todd Fuller, the teachers focused on the bill as a whole and didn't realize the smaller aspects such as social media restrictions until recently. He added that other parts of the legislation were emphasized when lawmakers were considering it.

According to Reuters, Missouri state school districts must "adopt new policies" to comply with the law starting January 1, 2012.




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