Missouri legislature poised to repeal teacher Facebook ban law

Following a preliminary court order prohibiting implementation of the new state law banning teachers from engaging in online social networking with former and current students, the Chesterfield Patch reports that the legislature may repeal key provisions of the law.  In August, 2011 [two days before the law was to take effect], the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) obtained a preliminary injunction from a state court preventing implementation of the social media portion of the law. State Sen. Jane Cunningham has sponsored a  bill revising that portion, known as Senate Bill 54 (SB 54), that she says will go before the General Assembly and may land on the desk of the governor and be ready to be signed into law within the week. Cunningham’s proposed legislation, which was spurred by Gov. Jay Nixon’s call for repeals to parts of SB 54, is known as Senate Bill 1 (SB 1).

Gov. Nixon’s Press Secretary, Scott Holste, declined to say whether the governor would sign SB 1 into law if and when the legislation reaches the governor’s desk. Accord to Holste, “Because so many changes can happen to a bill before it reaches the governor’s desk, we’re not going to be able to answer that now.” MSTA spokesman Todd Fuller said the teachers organization is in a “wait-and-see mode” because of the many potentialities that exist for SB 1 to be altered before being signed into law—as well as the possibility it may not be signed into law at all. He also indicated that MSTA would not withdraw the lawsuit until a bill containing language satisfactory to them is finalized and signed into law.

The revisions to the social media aspects of SB 54 contained in SB 1 are slated to be debated and voted on during the current special session of the General Assembly this week. If passed, SB 1 would replace the portions of SB 54 that teachers claimed were confusing. SB 1 is a direct result of the injunction on SB 54, won by the MSTA, that came as a result of Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem agreeing with the MSTA that parts of SB 54 were in fact vague and confusing.

Cunningham inisists SB 1 “keeps [the] intent of the original SB 54, requiring that school districts come up with their own policy in regards to electronic communication.” She added that the new bill is different from the old in two key ways, and these changes are the result of compromising with the MSTA and addressing their concerns with the original SB 54. First, SB 1 requires that every district must have a policy on social media in place by March 1, 2012. The date had previously been Jan 1, 2012. Second, the language of the bill was expanded from “teacher” to include “employee or staff” so that it is clear that it is not only the school’s teachers for whom there must be a clearly defined policy in regard to social networking communication with students.

Cunningham says with those two changes in place, SB 1 has received the endorsement of MSTA as well as every other major education group in the state. “When we looked, the language [of SB 1] had pretty much gotten back to what we were looking for,” says MSTA’s Fuller.

Source: Chesterfield Patch, 9/14/11, By Ryan Krull

Update:  The St. Louis Post reports that the Missouri Senate has passed the amendment bill, which removes the prohibition on teachers having private online conversations with students. Local school districts must now develop their own social media policy by March 1, 2012. Those policies must include “the use of electronic media and other mechanisms to prevent improper communications between staff members and students.”

Source:  St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9/14/11, By Jason Hancock

[Editor’s Note: The Missouri School Boards Association notes in its Capitol Watch page that the Governor originally called for repeal of the social media language, not revision.  It remains unclear whether he would sign the revised language.

Subscribers may access senior editor Naomi Dillon’s informative article for The American School Board Journal“Network Connections.”

In September 2011, Legal Clips summarized the state trial court’s preliminary injunction order in Missouri State Teachers Ass’n v. State of Missouri barring the state from enforcing that portion of SB 54 designated § 162.069.4 RSMo., which states: “No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a non-work-related Internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”  The editor’s note summarized a KY3  News piece reporting that Governor Nixon was seeking repeal of this provision in the fall special session of the state legislature.]


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