Missouri Teachers File Suit Against Social Media Law

Just in time for back to school, Missouri teachers fight new social media law.

Just in time for back to school, Missouri teachers fight new social media law.

The Missouri Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, or Senate Bill 54, seeks to limit teachers’ ability to communicate with their students via social media. It states: “By January1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communications and employee-student communications.”

The bill, the first of its kind in the United States, does not ban social networking communications. However, it stipulates that teachers cannot communicate with students on social networks unless the communications are accessible to a third party, such as an administrator, parent or guardian. In other words, Facebook walls are fine; Facebook private messages, not so much. The bill was supported by Senator Jane Cunningham and it is set to go into effect Sunday August 28th, 2011. However, the Missouri State Teacher’s Association has filed a lawsuit against the bill.

Todd Fuller, the MSTA’s Communication Director, says “once we heard from our teachers, we realized that it’s a vague section of the bill. It’s confusing and frustrating and something needs to be done.” According to Fuller, the first course of action is to stop the bill from going into effect until a court can determined if it the bill is constitutional or not.

On their website the MSTA notes: “MSTA believes the bill signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in July infringes on educators’ first amendment rights of free speech, association and religion. MSTA is asking the court to keep that section of law from being implemented until the constitutionality can be determined.

According to the press statement released by the MSTA, Legal Counsel, Gail McCray notes that “many of our members are concerned about the unintended consequences of this law, including their ability to monitor their own children’s online activities.” She continues: “It’s vague and more importantly, we believe it violates the constitutional rights of educators.”

According to Fuller, the MSTA’s main concern with the bill is confusion: “When you look at the language itself, that sounds fine, and it is. But what happened is that as the bill went on and when it tried to be more specific and explain what teachers could and couldn’t do, it then got more confusing.”

Moreover, the bill’s language is such that it does not just impact teachers, but also additional school employees. Fueller notes: “And that’s another confusing part of the bill. We have bus drivers asking, ‘Does this affect me?’ and the assumption is, based on that we’ve heard from legislators, is ‘Yeah, it does,’ even though it’s not clear.

However, Senator Cunningham is not impressed. She notes that while she had not read the suit, she thought it was hypocritical given that the MSTA and other educational groups were involved in the legislation process and the bill was passed in the House and State Senate.

While the MSTA may not stop the bill August 28th, there is little doubt that this case will set a precedent for future education and social media laws throughout the United States.