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Wednesday
Aug242011

Missouri Teachers Protest 'Facebook Law' Meant to Protect Students 

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(COLUMBIA, Mo.) -- Teachers in Missouri have gone to court to protest a new state law meant to protect children from sexual predators at school. The teachers say the law is so broadly worded that it will stop them from using the Internet to contact kids -- even their own -- for the most innocent of reasons.

The law, called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, was named for a young Missouri woman who said she was molested by a junior high school teacher. It says, among its provisions, that teachers may not contact their students through electronic communications, such as instant messages or Facebook posts, that cannot be seen by others, such as parents or school administrators.

"The only thing we're prohibiting -- the only thing -- is hidden communications between educators and former students, mostly minors, who have not graduated," said State Sen. Jane Cunningham, the law's chief sponsor.

But the Missouri State Teachers Association says the law "is so vague and overbroad that the plaintiffs cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted and what is prohibited." The association has filed for an injunction to stop the law, which goes into effect Aug. 28.

"When districts are telling their teachers to delete their Facebook pages and warning coaches to stop texting players to tell them a bus will be late, we knew we couldn't wait for a special session of the legislature," said Aurora Meyer, the online community coordinator for the teachers association.

In Missouri, the case against what's often referred to as the "Facebook Law" has taken on a life of its own. In addition to the teachers association court petition, the American Civil Liberties of Eastern Missouri is pursuing a case, and the Missouri National Education Association has asked for a meeting with Cunningham's staff in the hopes that a "clean-up bill" can be passed to end the controversy.

In the meantime, local school districts are busy trying to write the new social media policies that the new law mandates. They have until Jan. 1, and some teachers say they worry that administrators, fearing that they'll be held liable in a sexual abuse case, will write needlessly tough policies.

Chris Guinther, the president of the Missouri National Education Association, said the intent of the law was good, but "I think the bill went a little bit too far.

"Like many laws, the devil is in the details," she said.

The clock continues to click on the law. Students around the state are about to start a new school year, and the new law takes effect Sunday. Teachers said they're not sure they can legally answer homework questions on Facebook or through Google Docs.

"It's a whole new world," said Guinther, "but it's how our students communicate."

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