MO law prohibits teachers from 'friending' students

10:32 PM, Aug 3, 2011   |    comments
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St. Louis (KSDK) --  Friendships between students and teachers will soon be against the law in Missouri, at least on Facebook. It's part of a broader effort aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse.

The new law says teachers cannot have any private, online communication with their students unless the conversations can be monitored by both parents and administrators.

Aurora Meyer, the Online Community Coordinator with the Missouri State Teachers Association says teachers have a lot of questions about the law.

"(The law) has a lot of things that need to be clarified," says Meyer.

She says teachers from across the state are on the MSTA Facebook page with a wide range of questions about ways they currently use social media to interact with their students -- from after hours homework chats to teachers who connect with students through volunteer and church groups.

One question Meyer says a lot of teachers have concerns the section of the law that prohibits online, private communication with not only current, but former students.

The law does not apply to students who graduate and are 18 years-old.

MSTA is asking for teachers to be proactive and provide input to districts on how the law should be implemented.

Republican State Senator Jane Cunningham of Chesterfield sponsored the bill which became the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act.  She says Facebook is fine as long as schools can find a way to prevent private communication between students and teachers.

"If it's on a wall or on a work related site that's open to public domain, all that is just absolutely fine," says Cunningham.  "We are only saying don't hide the communication between one educator and one student."

New ground in education

The Francis Howell school district enacted a similar policy this past January. The district says teachers can use their school email accounts to set up a professional Facebook page to communicate with students. The district says this allows administrators access to any private messages.

Board member Marty Hodits helped craft the policy and he believes the district policy will be in compliance with the new state law which allows for accounts that can be monitored by administrators and parents

Hodits says the district's policy is one of the first like it in the state.

"I'm not going to say we didn't have a problem but we didn't have a major problem," says Hodits of student-teacher online communications before the new policy. "But you hear rumors around and it kind of pushed us to do something before we had major issues," he says.
"It's a shame that you have to go to that extreme," says Mary Hediger of the new state law. Her daughter, Erin, is entering the ninth grade at Francis Howell High.
"But I understand why the state passed the law, and to be honest with you it makes me feel a little more comfortable."

Some parents say websites like Facebook can be a valuable tool for teachers and students.

"From what I see, the way teachers and coaches use Facebook it's usually trying to help keep the kids on the straight and narrow," says Joy Siebenshuh, the mother of an incoming senior at Francis Howell High.

Since January, Francis Howell schools have been in what Hodits calls an educational period for their new policy. It will be enforced this fall.

The state-wide law for student-teacher standards goes into effect on August 28th with districts required to write their policy by the end of 2011 with enforcement beginning in January 2012. 


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