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Missouri Facebook law restricts teachers' contact with students

Camille Doty

By Camille Doty
Oct. 2, 2011 at 5:02 a.m.

The State of Missouri set a precedent by attempting to limit social media interaction between students and teachers.

The new law forbid teachers from having "exclusive access" online with current students or former students who are minors. The social networking restrictions are a broader part of a law protecting students from sexual abuse.

The 35-page bill, also known as the "Facebook law," states: "No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a work-related Internet site unless such site is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian.

"No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a nonwork-related Internet site, which allows exclusive access with a current or former student."

Senate Bill 54 was proposed after 87 Missouri teachers lost their licenses because of sexual misconduct between 2001 and 2005, according to an Associated Press investigation. Some were fired because they were exchanging explicit online messages with students.

The "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act" went into effect on Aug. 28.

Amy Hestir, for whom the legislation is named, is a Missouri woman who was continually molested and assaulted by her junior high school teacher when she was a student.

Teachers reacted by seeking an injunction. Members of the Missouri State Teachers Association said the law was unconstitutional and too vague.

In mid-September, both houses of the legislature voted to repeal the law. The revised version of the bill stipulates school are required to have electronic communications policies in effect by March 1 regarding communication between employees and students.

In Texas, no similar bill has been brought to the Legislature, said Justin Unruh, chief of staff for State Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria.

He said the bill would face challenges because it deals with the First Amendment's right to free speech.

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