Missouri teachers sue over new ‘Facebook’ law: Would it really hurt their ability to communicate with students?

A Missouri teachers’ union said Friday that it will be challenging a new measure that restricts teachers’ use of social networking sites and their contact with students, saying it violated their Constitutional rights. The measure is set to go into effect on Aug. 28.

The law was proposed after the Associated Press found that 87 Missouri teachers had lost their licenses from 2001 to 2005 because of sexual misconduct. Some of the conduct involved explicit online messages with their students.

From The Huffington Post:

“Under the law, school districts must establish policies by January that outline “appropriate use of electronic media such as text messaging and Internet sites for both instructional and personal purposes.” Teachers are barred from having “exclusive access” online with current students or former students who are minors. That means communication through Facebook or other sites must be done in public.”

“The law restricts non-work-related websites that allow communication between a teacher and a student that cannot be viewed by others, though the measure states it is not attempting to prohibit teachers from setting up non-work websites that comply with the restrictions….”

The teachers said the law will hurt their ability to keep in touch with students for classroom purposes, personal problem and emergencies. They also say it violated their free speech rights and could impede religious freedom as well – which is explained below.

From The Huffington Post:

“The group’s lawsuit – a copy of which was provided to AP – asserts that the restrictions for non-work-related sites amounts to prior restraint and violate educators’ free speech rights. It also says they could impede religious freedom and association rights by barring teachers from using non-work related websites and social networking sites that allow exclusive access with students.”

“It “is so vague and overbroad that the plaintiffs cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted and what is prohibited and thereby `chills’ the exercise of first amendment rights of speech, association, religion, collective bargaining and other constitutional rights by school teachers,” the lawsuit states.”

It sounds like based on this last paragraph that a large part of their complaint is that the law is written broadly and vaguely. They seem worried that  A. they won’t know what is all covers and B. that it covers way too much, not just don’t friend your students on Facebook.

(However, I don’t believe that they won’t be able to communicate with their students effectively if they are not on Facebook with them. It’s called email or a phone. What do you guys think on that one?)

I have a little bit of new perspective on this since I just started teaching college students. The professors talked at the faculty retreat about to “friend” to not to “friend” your students. Most said they only “friend” after graduation and they were no longer students. They said it was a privilege the students earned by finishing school.

But these are people older than 18 presumably by the time they start college much less graduating. I don’t think a fourth-grade teacher wants to friend a fourth-grader who has made it into fifth grade.

I am kind of thinking it would be OK for a school system to say do not “Friend” your students while they are minors and in our school system. (What if a kid moved away to another system but was still a minor? Hmm. That might be different.)

I am on Facebook now with favorite teachers from high school, and I love communicating with them but I am also an adult. I would love to friend Walsh’s teacher from last year but I don’t want to put her out and then I can’t complain about my school if I am on with her. So I probably won’t. But I may email her from time to time. She is a wonderful person.

So what do you all think? As a parent do you want teachers communicating with your kids on Facebook, Twitter, texting (I find that a little shifty), email directly to them, phone calls directly to them? At what grade do teachers stop communicating with the parents and go straight to the students?

As teachers, what would impede your ability to get your job done and communicate easily and effectively with your students? If this law stands in Missouri would you worry about it coming to Georgia?

79 comments Add your comment

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Carlson Yamamoto

August 23rd, 2011
6:12 am

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catlady

August 23rd, 2011
6:47 am

Theresa, would it be a problem if your employer told you that you could not use facebook or twitter as part of your work?

catlady

August 23rd, 2011
6:48 am

Or if you lost your job based on your private facebook or twitter exchanges?

Me

August 23rd, 2011
8:02 am

@catlady, while I do not possess first-hand knowledge of anyone losing their job at my company I do know for a fact that Facebook profiles have prevented some from being hired.
Facebook users need to know that their profiles are being viewed by potential, and perhaps current, employers.

penguinmom

August 23rd, 2011
8:10 am

We have been told this year to not text with students even if it is school related. This is mostly designed for our protection so that no innocent texts can’t be taken as anything more nefarious and used against us. A few of the teachers are really annoyed by this because they would use text messages to respond to simple assignment questions.

I don’t currently ‘friend’ any of my students (except my own son) until they graduate from high school. Part of that is I just don’t want the responsibility of having to censor (or limit) my comments. I don’t want to have to think about the possibility that they might take something I wrote the wrong way. Part of the limiting is that I don’t want to mix my 40+ years-old college friends with my 13-16 years-old female students. Other teachers do ‘friend’ the students at our school and comment on or ‘like’ their statuses. We are a small enough school and a close enough community that I don’t believe we would really have an issue but you really can never tell.

I do like the way Google Plus does ‘circles’ so that you limit comments automatically. I haven’t switched over to G+ completely yet because most of my friends are still on FB.

@catlady – if the private fb or twitter exchanges are inappropriate for a teacher-student relationship then the teacher should lost his job. If they are just complaining or joking around, then no that shouldn’t create a job loss.

@MJG – re: using LOL. A lot of the adults I know use LOL or ROFL as a short cut in emails and messages. The main difference I see in usage between adults and middle schoolers (besides sheer frequency of use) is the middle schoolers will actually say “LOL” in person instead of just laughing. :-)

Lady Strange

August 23rd, 2011
8:12 am

I think the communication should be through the parents, not directly with the student. College age should be the exception since they are technically adults. But before college there is no need for a teacher to directly contact a student outside of school. I’m fine if teachers want to use Facebook or other networking sites for their own personal use, but not for school stuff. Save it for the classroom. I would not like it if a teacher contacted my child directly instead of contacting me.

RJ

August 23rd, 2011
8:22 am

The use of texts and social media is more prevalant in high school. I know that my daughter’s tennis coach gave out her cell number and asked students to send texts. I didn’t give it a second thought. My daugher had a very young chemistry teacher that had a facebook page specifically for his class. He would answer questions for all to see regarding assignments. She loved it! So did I since I couldn’t help her in the least bit.

Perhaps the school systems can develop a social network for teachers and student to use for communication. It’s 2011 and technology is a huge part of our world that’s not going anywhere. The small percentage of educators that misuse technology can be dealt with, but it shouldn’t affect the majority of well-intentioned teachers.

Lori

August 23rd, 2011
8:32 am

I think I’d prefer the communications to come directly to me from my son’s teacher. I use Facebook, but I purposely keep my work colleagues out of it. My Facebook page is my personal info only. I’m friends only with my family and my friends from school. I don’t want my boss on there, it’s personal stuff. If a teacher really feels they can’t effectively communicate with their students without the use of social media, then they’ve got bigger issues. This kind of networking has only been around for a few years, so what did they do before?

Sylvania

August 23rd, 2011
8:40 am

You people and your dang social media sites. Let’s keep garbage like this OUT of the classroom.

Regarding the teachers who think this will hamper their abilities to communicate with their students during emergencies, I have a suggestion. You know what a telephone is? You should – you have it glued to your ear everywhere EXCEPT in the classroom. If you need to communicate with a student, pick it up and use it. It worked great for my teachers 30 years ago.

Hey, Lori......

August 23rd, 2011
8:42 am

…you may THINK you are “I’m friends only with my family and my friends from school. I don’t want my boss on there”, but you do not know with whom your “friends and family” are “friends” with, and THEY may inadvertently, or intentionally, post stuff about you or from you that could be seen by your boss or co-workers…just something to think about…

And, Lori......

August 23rd, 2011
8:43 am

…it does not matter how many filters or “safe” things you put on your page, you never know how safe or secure anyone else’s site may be or is…

HB

August 23rd, 2011
8:57 am

Is this law prohibiting contacting students via email or phone? If not, I don’t see the point of trying to regulate social network use. Setting up a public group where students can ask questions seems preferable to teachers having private email exchanges with students. This sounds like a bunch of folks who don’t really understand these various tools setting nonsensical rules dictating the technology used rather than setting behavior guidelines.

motherjanegoose

August 23rd, 2011
9:17 am

I am not a huge Facebook user but I do have an account. As most here know, I am techno challenged. Today’s topic I am NOT well versed in.

@penguinmom…thanks…LOL!

OFF topic…

I recently read an article on transitioning your first child to college. The mom mentioned speaking with other parents who had already done so and appreciated the fact that they could** pay it forward** with their tips and ideas for those who have not crossed that milestone yet. It reminded me of those of us here, who try to pay it forward. I am thankful for those who are willing to pay it forward to me and give me ideas to think about. I am sure I will learn some things today too. Have a great day everyone!

shaggy

August 23rd, 2011
9:39 am

No Facebook, and I refuse to do anything called a “tweet”. If you are “following” me, I want to be able to see you, or at least have physical signs that you are there, so I can evade capture if necessary ;)
I would only do social media of any kind, if I could make money using it. So far, that ain’t happening in my universe, so ya’ll have fun.

HB

August 23rd, 2011
9:52 am

Shaggy, you’re already on social media — this blog! Welcome to Web 2.0, my friend. ;-)

Warrior Woman

August 23rd, 2011
9:54 am

Students frequently do not use their email, or use their phone for calls, for that matter. If I am a teacher that needs to get a message out to multiple students, I’d much rather send a blast text message, a FaceBook posting, or a blog posting than call all of my students. It’s a far more efficient use of my time, and creates a record of what was said.

More importantly, when I taught, I had students that were both in my classroom and in my mentoring group at church. This law would have prohibited me from communicating freely with those students for religious purposes. I think it is overreaching, probably unconstitutional, and unneeded. If the communications are inappropriate, there are existing laws to cover them. If they’re not, why censor them?

@TWG – As to your question regarding when teachers shift from communicating with parents first to communicating with students first, I’ve found that by high school, if not middle school, the teachers communicate with students first and only contact parents if student communication doesn’t solve the issue.

Warrior Woman

August 23rd, 2011
9:55 am

Also, if the student and their parents are following FaceBook’s rules, no students under age 13 will have a FB account.

DB

August 23rd, 2011
9:55 am

Teachers unions who say they “need” social media outlets to “communicate” with their students are full of it. No one is saying that they can’t use social media in their personal life, so no one is abridging their rights. What they ARE saying is “don’t be stupid and put yourself in a position where you can’t publicly defend your actions”. There is NOTHING that a teacher of minors needs to be able to “communicate” to a student that requires social media. In an atmosphere that is so fraught with litigation that a teacher often makes sure that a door stays open during a conference with a student, why on earth would a teacher put themselves in a position that is so prone to misunderstandings and litigation?

Teachers can establish “professional” business pages if they want to on FB, so in one sense, it’s possible. But I’m not sure I’d risk it. Collges have “Blackboard”, and many schools have private email accounts that students can use.

There is a line of professionalism that is being crossed, here — teachers are not “friends”, they are TEACHERS. My daughter, now in college, enjoys having several of her high school teachers as FB friends, keeping up with their lives and being treated as a young adult by them. But it’s no longer a teacher/student relationship.

NikNak

August 23rd, 2011
10:08 am

What could be so important that a teacher needs to get in touch with a student outside of school ASAP? I went to high school in the early 2000s and we got by just fine by hearing everything we needed to hear from our teachers in class. Teachers and Students alike should want to keep their work life (school life) and home life separate. I’m sure glad that my teachers weren’t on facebook to see me and my idiot friends’ pictures and inappropriate status updates. I’m friends with some of my high school teachers now that I’m out of college and it’s fun! I’m CERTAIN they are not friends with any of their current students judging from some of the stuff they post.

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homeschooler

August 23rd, 2011
10:21 am

“teachers are not “friends”, they are TEACHERS.”

AMEN. And parents are not “friends” either. The rule in my house is..adults and kids are not “friends” on facebook, period. My kids are too young to have a fb account but I have no children on mine. Not my 16 yr old neice or my 17 yr old nephew. My 24 yr old nephew is my friend and it drives me nuts. My children will not be my “friend” once they are old enough for an account. Why, because I might say something totally appropriate for adults to see (ie..
‘I need a drink.. my kids are driving me crazy”) that I would not like for my kids to see.

Having said that, I do think that we need to be careful about passing “laws” about this because it can infringe on a person’s rights. But, lets use common sense. Why would a teacher want to “friend” a kid on fb? If they want to set up an additional account so it can be strictly for interacting about things pertaining to class, I think it’s great. Otherwise e-mail your students and their parents.

Hey, Tiger Ochocinco......

August 23rd, 2011
10:23 am

…what’s shakin????

Lori

August 23rd, 2011
10:33 am

Yes, I realize my Facebook friends could re-post stuff that could get back to my boss, but that’s also why I don’t post anything that is not appropriate. I don’t understand people who post these crazy politically ruled rants that make them look like they are insane, or people who post pics of themselves out partying too hard. I have friends who are my under-aged nephew and cousins, and my own son, so all my posts are family friendly and family oriented. I can’t imaging anyone out there re-posting pics of me and my son eating an icecream at Disney World! But when teachers go out and start “friending” their students, then posting stuff like pics of themselves drunk at a bar, or rants about how much they hate their jobs or whatever, I could see that raising some eyebrows.

abc

August 23rd, 2011
10:36 am

I think it only illustrates yet again that people well recognize how anti-social so-called social networking is. Facebook, twitter, and texting suck. It’s like anti-communication.

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DB

August 23rd, 2011
10:45 am

I have to admit, I was impressed with my son’s management of his FB page throughout college. It was always interesting to see places he had been, etc., but anyone reading his FB page would probably have died of boredom — because he was VERY adroit at untagging pictures as soon as he got them! He’d get notices on his phone and look to see what was posted, and all the riotous fun pictures were immediately untagged. I asked him if I was blocked from a lot of his content on FB, or if it was really that noncommittal, and he laughed — he’s over over 21, he certainly could block me if he wanted to, but he said he didn’t bother, there wasn’t much on there he had to be embarrassed about. He’s looking at law school and DC internships in the next few years — he didn’t want anything on the FB page that might be taken the wrong way.

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B

August 23rd, 2011
10:49 am

I can see the benefit of having students able to communicate with their teacher through social media like facebook. That is what they use every day, however I think teachers should not be allowed to use a personal page to friend their students. Teachers are people and should be free to have a personal facebook page, and if they go out for drinks with friends, and take pictures, they should not be at risk of losing their jobs (but that’s discussion for another blog). I think if the teacher has a public page like “Ms. Robinson’s 5th grade English” and her students can be friends with that page (her personal account should not). the teacher can then communicate with all the students, if students are having a hard time with an assignment, they can post questions to that page, and the teacher can see maybe where more time the next day could be spent on elaborating on the things that students are having a hard time with. Many colleges are offering online classes, and if students actually want to graduate from college in 4 years, you almost have to take those online classes, and this would just help them prepare for such classes.

RJ

August 23rd, 2011
11:00 am

@B, I agree with you 100%. That is the way I see Facebook being used. Not necessarily as a means to friend someone on a personal page. If a teacher has a facebook page for their class, I just don’t see the problem. @Warrior Mom is correct. High schoolers rarely use email anymore, nor do they use their phone for talking. They text, use twitter, skype, oovoo, and facebook.

Yes, but...

August 23rd, 2011
11:20 am

Maybe email isn’t the preferred method of communication, but most of them (teens) have smart phones these days and email comes directly to them wherever they are. They don’t have to “check” their email, they get a notification and just look at their phone.

But seriously, what kind of emergency warrants a teacher to have 24 hr access to a student? Talk in class!

Jackets '10

August 23rd, 2011
11:21 am

Facebook was ruined after it started letting those not in college into the mix. When I was in highschool, facebook wasn’t an option unless you were invited by a college student. I hate facebook now with people creeping all over other peoples’ business, it has gone from social networking to social stalking in private. That being said, facebook users have to face reality and use a bit of caution when communicating with others, those who don’t probably deserve to lose their jobs. I feel sorry for teachers though, with all the stay at home moms creeping all over their pages, looking for reasons why said teacher shouldn’t teach their kid and an increasing amount of young teachers get caught in the crosshairs because *gasp* they go and have fun with their friends in public places, perhaps partaking in a beverage which they are old enough to drink. Other nerfarious activities should be and have been justly punished, just need to use a little common sense.
Just have the school set up a website for their students like facebook but with all school related activities, that way you have the functionality of facebook and an easier way to monitor teacher-student reactions. Once that is established you could perhaps ban teacher-student interaction on facebook. You can’t just eliminate an option b/c of potential evil doing w/o offering a viable alternative. Facebook has a lot of tools that teachers can use, like creating groups to communicate project ideas while apart, etc etc.

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shaggy

August 23rd, 2011
11:23 am

HB,

I know, but Theresa doesn’t require me to “tweet”, and I “friend” only in person…my Web 3.0 :0)

A

August 23rd, 2011
11:27 am

How about no Facebook and no Twitter at all. That would simplify things, wouldn’t it?

Gary

August 23rd, 2011
11:29 am

Anyone who does not see the potentail for abuse is simply missing the reason for the law. This is simply to deter inappropriate communication between a student and a teacher. Peoples behavior changes online. They become more comfortable because of a false feeling of protection because of the lack of contact. No one is talking or looking directly at you. Children post things they would never publically say. This makes it even easier if not encourages a relationship that should not exist between a teacher and student. If you are a male teacher communicating with a teen female student after hours on facebook you have no business being in this line of work.

Theresa

August 23rd, 2011
11:33 am

With journalism they want us to be on social media promoting our coverage and looking for news. The Washington Post (I believe) sent out a memo requiring all staffers to be on FAcebook. The old timers weren’t interested but they are saying they need it to do their jobs effectively.

School is different thought than regular jobs because for the most part you’re dealing with minors — unless if teaching college-level.

On the email system set up for the college, it automatically CCs the message you send to the student to yourself — I guess just to have back up of any conversation. So that is interesting.

RjH

August 23rd, 2011
11:36 am

I really don’t understand the “need” for a teacher to be in contact with a student other than in school. I never had outside contact with my teachers. If there was something to be said or done homework related, she/he would tell the class in school or hand out in flyers in class. This goes for high school & college. So what are the teachers doing in class? Are the kids in class at all? We’re not talking about virtual school are we? What is so important that it can’t wait the next day or over the weekend to be told? If the teacher is doing their job right..not a darn thing.

rex dogma

August 23rd, 2011
11:48 am

Beware teachers stay away from facebook or any other outside commmunication. it could cost you your job and respect even if you have no evil intentions.

just a thought

August 23rd, 2011
12:02 pm

When I was in school, middle school, high school whatever…I had no reason to have my teacher’s home phone number. Anything I needed to discuss with my teacher would be during school hours. Why do students need to reach their teachers after school hours?

The world has really changed

August 23rd, 2011
12:18 pm

What the heck did people do before Facebook, before the internet period?? :roll: Geez, its called a phone or even email…or maybe a face to face personal conversation.

penguinmom

August 23rd, 2011
12:19 pm

@homeschooler – the nice thing about being friends with your own children is you can see who they are friends with and monitor what is on their wall without having to log in as them. If you use the ‘hide all’ or ‘hide post’ button it really limits the negative impact younger FB users have on your news feed. I homeschool also and my kids are well aware they drive me crazy sometimes. (They will occasionally suggest that my husband and I need a night out away from them.) So, that type of post wouldn’t even cause them to blink an eye. :-)

As far as when communication goes to the student instead of the parent, I would say late middle school/high school. I tend to give my students a single heads up email if I have a fairly minor issue and I also communicate with them directly if it involves problems they are having with the subject. I copy the parents in when I feel that they are really slacking off or that the parents don’t seem to be aware of the issue.

Our school has a website with pages for every class. Each class has web-mail, assignment dropboxes and the option of discussion groups for class use. There is even the option for instant text messaging from the site of any updates. This takes the place of having to use text messaging or personal email accounts to communicate with the students or parents.

Blondie

August 23rd, 2011
12:19 pm

If you’re a teacher, why do you want to open the Pandora’s box that is Facebook with students? One little post that a kid finds inappropriate and your job is toast! Why not use Google+ and keep a circle of students -so that you can ensure that you’re only allowing appropriate communication with them.

I think email and phone are enough -not to mention, Cobb teachers have classroom blogs that allow students to communicate about assignments and remind themselves about what lessons and assignments they have going on.

JATL

August 23rd, 2011
12:20 pm

I used to teach, and there is NO WAY I would be on Facebook with any student or parent! I think the school system is entirely correct in banning its usage between teachers and students. Once the student graduates and is over 18, then it should be fine, but before that -no! If you as a teacher, student or parent cannot contact one another or keep up with class events without Facebook and Twitter, then something is terribly wrong.

And currently I work for a huge bank, and we’re not allowed access to Facebook, Twitter OR any non-company email sites from our work computers! Somehow we’re all still living and communicating.

catlady

August 23rd, 2011
12:20 pm

DB and others: some of you seem blissfully unaware that teachers have been fired (even in GA) for their private Facebook accounts of their plans, vacations, etc, even when privacy settings have been inacted. Free private speech ain’t so free, if you are a teacher, in some places.

Jeff

August 23rd, 2011
12:27 pm

I think teachers should be able to use facebook just like any other human being. But have interaction with a minor that is under their direct care is a conflict of interest. Where do we draw the line? If a male teacher is friends with his students, is he easily suspected of improper activites? For that matter, female teachers have increasingly been accused of improper behavior with their students. Any reasonable teacher would not have their students as friends. They are begging for a bad situation.

Jeff

August 23rd, 2011
12:28 pm

Catlady, I generally support what you are saying. The teachers have every right to a normal life outside of their work environment.