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“Facebook law”: the saga continues

October 3, 2011

In July of 2011, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed into law SB 54; what has come to be known as “The Missouri Facebook Law.” The law would actually have taken effect in January of 2012 and contained several new provisions for reporting instances and allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers. Critics of the law infer that these provisions could impact the use of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks as well as texting between teachers or other school employees and students according to a press release issued on August 19, 2011 by Todd Fuller, Director of Communications for MSTA.


On Friday, September 23, 2011 Missouri Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to repeal SB54. “If the repeal is signed by Gov. Jay Nixon, Missouri’s Law restricting online communications would instead be replaced with a new requirement for public school districts to develop their own policies on the use of electronic media between employees and students.”


“It puts things back into the hands of the school districts,” according to Todd Fuller (MSTA), who was successful along with MSTA Legal Counsel in obtaining an Injunction against The Amy Hestir Act; (better known as The Missouri Facebook Law) until at least February 20, 2012. The Amy Hestir Act was named for a Missouri woman who testified that she was manipulated into a sexual relationship with a teacher through internet use while she was in junior high school in Missouri according to a previous article in The Kansas City Star.


According to NPR, “A Cole County Judge issued a preliminary injunction placing Missouri’s Law on hold shortly before it was to take effect Aug. 28, declaring the “the breadth of the prohibition is staggering” and the law “would have a chilling effect” on free-speech rights guaranteed under The U. S. Constitution.


“Shortly after the judge’s order, Governor Nixon added the online communications law to the agenda of a Special Session that began Sept. 6. Nixon’s written message to lawmakers specifically limited them to repealing the law not replacing with new wording as they did.”


The Missouri House passed the legislation to repeal and replace by a 139-2 vote. The Missouri Senate passed it earlier this month 33-0. The new version of the bill removes the provision which barred teachers from using social media sites that allow “exclusive access” with non-adult students, such as private messaging.


Fuller (MSTA) added: “It became easy to call this The Facebook Bill, but it was much bigger than that. It was much more. We’re using a form of social media in the classroom right now that we’re not sure if we can continue to use.”


This is obviously an issue that will remain present in public schools in the USA because even elementary school students are computer and internet ready. For now the issue will remain in the hands of local communities and their school boards. There can be little doubt that this issue will remain contentious.


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