Monday, August 01, 2011

Teacher-Student Social Networking Banned in Missouri

According to Missouri’s Senate Bill 54, which was just signed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, all forms of social networking are now prohibited between teachers and students. ABC News said that this does not mean just Facebook. It means any social networking "that is exclusive and allows for private communication."

So why has this legislation come about? Mashable said that "inappropriate contact between students and teachers is at the root of the legislation," which is "designed to protect children from sexual misconduct by teachers, compelling school districts to adopt written policies between teachers and students on electronic media, social networking and other forms of communication."

The bill states: “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 nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

The bill also requires that all Missouri school districts develop a written policy that addresses the "appropriate use of electronic media" by the start of the New Year. The policy will include the guidelines for social network use.

So, how exactly has this been received by Missouri? Well it does seem to give residents the idea that they should not trust teachers, but Mashable said that “on the surface this seems like a good idea.” However, they did point out that "inappropriate relationships will be hard to detect, especially since teachers and students engaged in such relationships would probably be concealing their communications, electronic or otherwise."

A very key word in the law is “exclusive.” This means that teachers will still be allowed to set up social networking pages that are focused on friendships, class work or program support. These will be okay as long as the site is public and available to all. However, Missouri teachers are still not exactly happy about the law. Some claim that sites like Facebook are a valuable tool because they allow students to bring up issues to teachers that otherwise might be uncomfortable for them to talk about face-to-face.

Randy Turner, a middle school communications arts teacher in Missouri's Joplin School District, blogged that the law was signed "in spite of the positive effect that teachers and students being Facebook friends had on Joplin Schools' effort to locate students after the May 22 tornado.[and] in spite of considerable evidence that social networking has been a positive force in education, and little or no evidence to the contrary."

"For some students, that move could very well prevent them from confiding in a trusted adult friend who might be able to help them get through serious problems in their lives," writes Turner.

"For Joplin students, that could be dealing with the aftermath of losing their homes and having their lives uprooted on May 22. For others, it may be confiding in just the kind of horrific crime that the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act is supposedly designed to eliminate," she adds.

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