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Missouri teachers: No talking to students on Facebook

You won't find teachers in Missouri friending their students on Facebook, or any other social network for that matter, this school year — not unless they want to violate a new law in the state that prohibits such contacts.

Senate Bill 54, signed into law by the Gov. Jay Nixon and taking effect Aug. 28, is quickly becoming known as the "Facebook law" in Missouri, although the bill is creates what is known as the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act." Hestir was a Missouri public school student who was molested by a teacher decades ago; the law basically requires school districts to report any allegations of sexual abuse to state authorities within 24 hours.

School districts will also be liable if they fail to disclose suspected or known abuse by past employees to other public school districts that make inquiries about those workers.

But buried deep in the bill is Section 162.069 is a mandate that references social networking sites, as well as teachers not being allowed to have a "nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student":

By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication 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.

Some teachers think the law is overkill for what's needed to ensure student safety.

Randy Turner, Joplin East Middle School communication arts teacher, wrote on her blog that "hundreds of teachers across the state who have effectively used Facebook and other social networking sites to communicate with students, and I am one of those, will have to trash years worth of work, because all teachers are potential criminals" in the view of the author of the bill, State Sen. Jane Cunningham.

"The teachers I know who communicate with students through Facebook have a large number of parents as 'friends' and most of the communication with students is done on the Facebook wall," Turner wrote.

And, she noted, the bill went through "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."

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