Last month I blogged about Missouri’s Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, a law which prohibits private communications between teachers and students on social media websites. Several readers shared their concerns about the vagueness and breadth of the Act in the comments. It seemed that the law was clearly running afoul of several Constitutional provisions. I also spoke to some Missouri teachers about their responses to the bill, and asked them what guidelines they had received in regard to staying compliant with the new law.  They all seemed equally confused about what exactly the Amy Hestir bill prohibited, and answered that their school administrators had also not given them clear guidelines about what social media activities they were allowed to engage in.

The concerns of Missouri teachers were well received by Missouri judicial branch. A few weeks ago in response to a suit brought by the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Cole County Circuit Court granted a preliminary injunction (PDF) nullifying the portion of the bill which stated, “no teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a non work-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”  The judge, Jon Beetem, stated that the provision ran counter to the First Amendment by having a chilling effect on speech. Judge Beetem interpreted the prohibition broadly and explained that it would prevent teachers from using any social networking site that allowed private contact with students.

The decision will likely not receive too much push back from Missouri’s legislative or executive branches. Governor Nixon stated that he would ask the legislature to repeal the contested provision of the statute.

Missouri’s social networking law controversy stands as an example to other states if they want to pass laws regulating educator social networking. If states do want to pass laws, they must be very specific about the type of conduct they are prohibiting, and ensure they are not being more restrictive than student safety requires.

– Nadia Mozaffar

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4 Responses to Amy Hestir Student Protection Act Part II: The Injunction

  1. Nadia Mozaffar says:

    Katie–I think your concerns are well founded. I think the problem with this law is that they didn’t really intend to solve the problems of social networking and educational professionals. The law mainly deals with background checks for teachers and staff. The one sentence about social networking almost reads like an afterthought. W/the injunction, I don’t think there are any other social media regulations in the law.

    Basically, Missouri stands as an example that if states want to regulate teacher social networking, they have to focus on that issue specifically to work out all the kinks–not just tack it on another law.

  2. Kevin Lumpkin says:

    And when I say ironic, I mean odd, because that’s not actually ironic at all and I am not Alanis Morissette.

  3. Katie Brown says:

    This news about the Cole County Circuit Court’s preliminary injunction comes as a welcome development, given the worrisome breadth of the law designed to protect students from ‘predatory’ teachers. However, I am skeptical that even a narrowed version of the law could succeed in deterring or detecting improper online communications between teachers and students. Given the ability to create multiple accounts on social networking sites like Facebook, I worry that such predatory teachers could simply create another online account, perhaps using a false name, and thus avoid detection. Further, sites like Facebook also provide sophisticated privacy settings that enable users to target communications to specific other users in a manner that would help such teachers shield their improper communications.

  4. Kevin Lumpkin says:

    It’s ironic that the focus is on social networking sites because they allow “private contact” with students. Is that really unique to social networking? Surely teachers have students’ email addresses, and see students regularly in school. If a teacher is determined to act inappropriately, I don’t think lack of access to Facebook is going to be the stumbling block.