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.

–Nadia Mozaffar

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4 Responses to Regulating Teacher-Student “Friendships”–The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act

  1. Jordan Teague says:

    As Kevin predicted, this law is already receiving push-back in the courts. A judge just issued a preliminary injunction on free speech grounds, which will block enforcement of the law in the short-term: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Mo-judge-blocks-Facebook-limits-for-teachers-2142661.php.

  2. Wentzvillan says:

    The portion of this law that says a teacher can’t use a work-related web site unless it is available to administrators and parents will prevent a teacher from using a district web site for email, since a parent does not have access to that function.

    A trained monkey could write a better law than this.

  3. Kevin Lumpkin says:

    I agree with Megan on this one, this law is way too over-reaching. Going so far as to ban online contact with former students sounds like it easily violates the First Amendment to me.

    Additionally, isn’t this something that school districts should be handling with internal regulations rather than state law?

  4. Megan LaDriere says:

    This is such an important issue, but I agree that Missouri went about it in the wrong way. There have been a couple really big cases when teachers get fired for inappropriate social networking behavior. In Spanierman v. Hughes, a teacher added some of his students to his MySpace page which had vulgar words and pictures on it. After the school fired Spanierman, he filed a lawsuit alleging the school violated his First Amendment rights. Even though the court ruled for the school, it took a lot of time and expense to go through the litigation. I feel like Missouri is trying to have a law in place to point to so that Constitutional lawsuits will be less frequent. However, this law will probably be struck down for overbreadth or vagueness anyways. I’ll be interested to see what happens in the future and if any other states follow Missouri’s example – thanks for posting about it!