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Missouri “Facebook law” update: Missouri State Teacher’s Association files petition in circuit court

August 21, 2011

The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) has filed a petition in The Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri, to determine the constitutionality of the social media portion of State Senate Bill 54, known as The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. In a press release issued Friday, August 19, Todd Fuller, Director of Communications for the Association, explained, “MSTA believes the bill signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon in July infringes on educator’s first amendment rights of free speech, association and religion. MSTA is asking the court to keep that section of law from being implemented until the constitutionality can be determined.”

The petition specifically claims that the law “effectively prohibits Plaintiffs from interacting with students via […] sites commonly used by teachers for online classes and distance learning” and “is so vague and overbroad that the Plaintiffs cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted and what is prohibited and thereby “chills” the exercise of first amendment rights”.

Lawmakers passed SB 54 in May of 2011 and Governor Jay Nixon signed it into law in July. The wide-ranging bill contains several new provisions for reporting instances and allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers and school employees Critics of the law infer that these provisions could impact the use of Facebook, Twitter, other social networks, and even texting between teachers or other school employees and students.

Also from the MSTA press release: “Many of our members are concerned about the unintended consequences of this law, including their ability to monitor their own children’s online activities,” said MSTA Legal Counsel, Gail McCray. “It’s vague and more importantly, we believe it violates the constitutional rights of educators.”

There is no indication of when to expect a ruling from the court, though the law is set to take effect August 28th. Schools and districts designing policy to comply with the law will likely continue on that course, but will be prepared to put any changes on hold in the case of an injunction.

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