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Lawmakers in Missouri recently passed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which limits social media interactions between teachers and students. The law’s main focus is to identify predatory teachers. For example, the law describes procedures a school must follow when students report sexual misconduct by a teacher, prohibits registered sex offenders from serving on the school board, and authorizes the Office of the Child Advocate to offer mediation services when child abuse allegations arise in a school setting.
However, most of the Act’s respondents criticize the section of the Act which prohibits teachers and school employees from communicating with students online. The law specifically states that “teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and parents, or have a non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”
The criticisms arise from the laws lack of clarity. Teachers and school administrators seem to be unsure what types of communication the law actually prohibits. For example, if teachers are not allowed to have websites that “allow exclusive access,” does this mean they are not allowed to have private conversations with students on Facebook, they cannot “friend” their students on Facebook, or that teachers are not allowed to have Facebook profiles at all? Are teachers allowed to communicate with students via email? Can student organization coordinators text students if they need to announce schedule changes quickly? Critics are also wary of the new law’s ability to limit educational opportunities. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites are becoming popular teaching tools. A recent study of college students even showed that participants who accessed the Facebook website of their professors had higher levels of motivation and learning.
Online predators are a very real threat to students, and unfortunately students can fall victim to predatory teachers. However, laws regulating social networking between students and teachers must leave room for beneficial communication to occur.
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