Missouri Teachers Up In Arms Over Social Media Crack Down

Getting ready for back to school? So are Missouri teachers. However, they will have to make some adjustments to lesson plans as Missouri adjusts to new social media law.

After an Associated Press investigation discovered 87 Missouri teachers lost their teaching licensees between 2001 and 2005 due to social media exchanges involving online messaging with students, Missouri implemented a new social media law. Titled the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, the law takes effect on August 28th, 2011. It is named after a woman who claims to have been sexually abused by a teacher in Missouri; it limits teacher’s ability to communicate with students on social networking sites such as Facebook. Specifically, the act requires schools districts to create policies which address social media:

“By January1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communications and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a non-work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

 It is the first law of its kind in the United States, and while it does not technically prohibit teachers from communicating with students via Twitter or Facebook, it will almost definitely limit teachers from communicating with students via private messaging.

Reaction to the law has been divided, Many Missouri teachers feel the law reflects a “backwards” approach to technology, youth, and education. They argue that social networking can be used for legitimate academic purposes. Moreover, teachers worry that the law leaves too much wiggle room. This may result in discrepancies between districts. More importantly, it will allow over-zealous administrators to ban all forms of social media communication between teachers and students in their districts.

However, supporters of the law, such as Stage Senator Jane Cunningham argue that those in opposition to the law don’t fully understand the new rules they are speaking out against: “Any teacher who is really working hard with a student privately would want to have a parent or administrator know how hard they’re working,” said Cunningham, a Republican from suburban St. Louis. “The only problem is if there’s something they want to hide.”

In reaction to this, many teachers note that social media increases avenues for youth to seek support. If a hallway or classroom is too public a place to be comfortable disclosing information, a social media message may be the perfect outlet for a student in need. In an article released by the Associated Press, Lucinda Lawson, an English teacher in southern Missouri with 80 current or past students on her Facebook worries that: truly supportive teachers the chance to get help for them when they’re in dangerous or compromising situations.”

Both sides of the argument voice valid points and while Missouri may be the first state to implement such a law, it is unlikely they will be the last. The larger question is whether banning social media use between teachers and parents is addressing the problem or avoiding it? Social media is here to stay; can education adjust?

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