Revised Missouri Bill Requires School Districts to Create Social Media Policies

  • Missouri Senate Bill 54 was passed July 14 to protect students from teachers who might be sexual predators.
  • Missouri State Teachers Association sued over a portion of the bill that would not allow contact between teachers and students through social media because the bill was an infringement of their first amendment rights.
  • SB 54’s social media section was revised and renamed SB 1. It would allow districts to make their own social media policies by March 1, 2012.
  • SB 1 is currently awaiting Governor Nixon’s approval.

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Bill aims to protect against student-teacher relations

Gov. Jay Nixon is currently examining Senate Bill 1, a revision of the Amy Hestir  Student Protection Act that regulates online student-teacher relationships, particularly in social media networks.

“The governor received the bill on his desk this morning and it is now under review,” Nixon’s Press Secretary, Scott Holste said Thursday.

Nixon has several options in regards to the bill. He can sign the bill into law, veto the bill and return it to the legislature with his objections or allow the bill to go into effect without signature.

According to the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), the bill will require every Missouri School District to have a written policy concerning employee-student communication by March 1, 2012.

SB 1 is essentially the rewritten social media portion of Sen. Jane Cunningham’s sponsored Senate Bill 54 also called the “Facebook Law,” which Nixon signed July 14.

A portion of SB 54 said, “No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a nonwork-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

The vagueness of SB 54 prompted MSTA to sue the state questioning the constitutionality of the bill. A preliminary injunction was granted by Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, delaying the law from taking place Aug. 28.

Deana Layton, southwest MSTA field coordinator, said that SB 54 limited teachers ability to communicate with students through technology.

“SB 54 primarily prohibits teachers’ freedom of speech,” Layton said. “Many teachers are using social media and technology to reach students in the classroom and because of the bill and how poorly written it was and ambiguous, many of the teachers are not going to be able to utilize some of the technology they had been using with their kids when the law went into effect.”

Cunningham said that her intentions are to protect students and school staff, not limit speech.

“It’s important that parents or appropriate school personnel can monitor communication,” she said.

Layton cited many examples of positive teacher-student communication that would be banned with the passing of SB 54.

“Some of the websites they are downloading, for instance we had a journalism teacher who said she has a website that kids access and when they write their stories they send it to her for proofing and that communication between the student and that teacher would be prohibited because it wasn’t in a public forum,” Layton said. “Teachers use blackboard, they tweet on twitter, and all of that would fall under the social technology that would be prohibited with the bill.”

Layton said that MSTA does support SB 1.

“Basically what SB 1 does is put the responsibility of the district to determine what is best for their constituents and their students and teachers and develop a policy that addresses appropriate communication in their district,” she said. “So how one district will do it and what another will do will vary, and should vary because it depends on what is best for their community and their needs.”

“Most schools already had policies that were very effective, so we didn’t want to undo all their work of putting together good policies. We wanted to affirm their efforts,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham said that electronic communication is not inherently dangerous to students or teachers.

“It just continues the same problem we’ve always had, just with a different kind of communication,” she said.

Zac Rantz, communication coordinator of Nixa Public Schools, said Nixa encourages teachers to use technology and social media.

“We believe in communicating in a way that reaches students. Students use social media.”

In regards to SB 1, Rantz said that an ideal policy would focus more on the content of the messages rather than the way messages are delivered.

“We need guidelines to prevent nonprofessional communications between students and teachers,” Rantz said. “To say ‘no contact’ is too restrictive. Like maybe no friending students on a personal account, but maybe they have a professional page and friend them in that way. We need to make sure there are lines and that they’re clear. Keeping things professional lessens risks for students and staff members.”

Although the bill is still awaiting approval from Gov. Jay Nixon, Springfield, MO. schools like Kickapoo High School are currently implementing the bill into their course syllabus. One individual in particular, John Moore, a general biology, anatomy and physiology professor at Kickapoo has already implemented the bill into his courses.

 

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Springfield Public Schools (SPS)  website said it is Missouri’s largest fully accredited school district with about 24,000 students who attend 36 elementary schools, an intermediate school, nine middle schools, five high schools, a center for gifted education and an early childhood center. The graphic provided below is the 2011-2012 district map of Springfield. For a more detailed map of the district locations, visit SPS’s Location map.

2011-2012 Missouri district map
2011-2012 Missouri Attendence Map for Districts

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Deana Layton, southwest Missouri State Teachers Association, speaks about SB 54, SB 1 and how technology is being used in the classroom today.

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Additional Sources

National Education Association (NEA)

Missouri National Education Association

Missouri NEA takes steps to fix ‘Facebook Law’

Child Advocacy Center

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 Contributions

Interviews: Amanda Hess, Evelyn Applebee

Video Interview: Amanda Hess

Project Article: Brandon Corrigan

Graphs & Additional Sources: Katie DeJarnette