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

fossil

August 23rd, 2011
12:44 pm

A teacher has no business “friending” a student, or exchanging emails, or texts. The teachers need to be teaching some control of these tools in the world. Kids I see around town can’t get a darn thing done because they got their noses stuck on their phones.

Student goes to class.
Teacher teaches lesson and assigns homework.
Student returns to class with homework completed.
No texting, necessary.

And of course teachers should be free to use Facebook, but not for interaction with students.

TeachIndependence

August 23rd, 2011
12:45 pm

The whole “If you want to talk to my kid, come through me” idea is creating a generation of students who are unable to converse with their teachers appropriately and effectively. I teach 11th grade English, and I expect that students come to me with issues, rather than go through their parents to get to me, and I do the same. If we don’t teach students how to voice their concerns themselves, what will they do when they’re away from home on a college campus? They certainly can’t get mom to intervene. I agree whole heartedly, facebook is not the appropriate venue for this, but communication between students and teachers should be taught.

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Kennemaw

August 23rd, 2011
1:08 pm

I have a FB account and several friends who are teachers. It is not unusual for them to complain about their classrooms, hating Mondays, etc.. As a parent or student, I wouldn’t want to read that. What a demotivator for the classroom. Also, if I had a son, I really don’t want him looking at pics of his teachers in bikinis on the beach. that is just TMI. Teachers can have ‘normal lives’ outside of the classroom, but that is it – OUTSIDE of the classroom, which means no students as FB friends.

As for communicating with students, most teachers have a blog where they can post class info. This keeps it fair too – all kids get the same info. If a student forgets an assignment or has questions, he can call his classmates. Again, teachers need lives outside of the classroom.

As for the business world, my employer does not allow FB or social media access at work except for our marketing staff. Also, as an employee, we are not permitted to write negative things about work on these sites. Remember, GA is a right to work state, so employers can fire you without cause. If any employee wants to rant about his job or company, then he is an idiot if he thinks there won’t be consequences. Be an adult and deal with it.

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old timer

August 23rd, 2011
1:50 pm

As a retired teacher, I really do see value in communicating with high school students this way. I always sent e-mail to parents and students who wanted assignments. I know some teachers who now do blogs, but these are time-consuming. But, I think I would set up a seperate account as in Teacher old timer 2011″.. At the end of the year you could defriend everyone and begin again new the next year.I have a minister friend, he and his wife do this to keep in touch with church members and it has worked well. You would also have to defriend anyone who did anything inappropriate.

classroom is enough...

August 23rd, 2011
1:53 pm

i see no reason that teachers need to be contacting students outside of class without their parents knowledge of it. if they can’t get all the information they need to children while they are in the room, they should re-evaluate the way they teach.
why would a teacher want to friend a student on facebook? again, get all the information to them while they are at school. i agree with one of the posters that too many teachers make negative/sarcastic comments about teaching on social media sites. students do not need to read that.
it is one thing to have an unanticipated need to contact students outside of school. this can be done through the parents or with the parents knowledge. but friendly/social banter on a daily basis is inappropriate. chat it up all you want if you run into a student at the grocery store, but stay off childrens phones and computers.

MannyT

August 23rd, 2011
1:57 pm

Advanced communication options are here to stay. No, a teacher should not “friend” a child on facebook. Then again, you should not be on facebook if you are under 13. I can see the value in communicating with a willing teacher about school related things in the evenings or weekends.

Here’s my suggestion to keep the communication lines open AND maintain above board, monitored interactions. Teachers should be allowed to communicate with parents & students via school controlled social media links. When you e-mail a teach, you should use their work e-mail, not a personal one. The school can have approved twitter accounts for interested teachers like @SmithHSMr.Jones or @CreekMSMs.Walsh. Similarly, you can setup pages/groups on facebook where the teachers can access them as a representative of Smith HS so their personal information does not appear. The response is from the Smith HS facebook account.

The benefit is these interactions can & should be monitored for appropriate behavior on all sides. The teacher can keep his/her other social media accounts and not allow access to unknown people. Teachers keep some level of privacy and normal life while helping our kids to learn via newer methods.

jarvis

August 23rd, 2011
2:05 pm

Theresa, don’t complain on Facebook. It’s a downer.

@RjH, I wish all parents were like you. I’ll never forget the time that the mother of a student in my wife’s 1st Grade Class picked up the phone book and called everyone in Cobb County with my wife’s name on a Sunday afternoon asking if the were the one that taught at my wife’s school. Her son had forgotten to bring his homework assignment insturctions home, and she needed the details of the assignment.

People have no common sense.

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Ezra

August 23rd, 2011
2:18 pm

Hey its librerals controlling their domain. It is not unconstitutional to a liberal if it fits their agenda. Like Obama said during a 2001 radio interview, said the U.S. Constitution is flawed because it gets in the way of his redistributive schemes.

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Mother As Well

August 23rd, 2011
3:52 pm

As a parent, teachers are not supposed to socialize with their students. Facebook, twitter, etc… are all social websites – operative word being SOCIAL. If a teacher cannot properly teach a child outside of facebook, there is a problem with the teaching qualifications of the teacher. The school my kid goes to has a website with both the kids and parents having accounts, all of his teachers have emails and we communicate regularly, including via phone. Why would the teacher need to “friend” a minor on a social website???? I just don’t get it and can’t find justification in it at all.

Anthony Weiner

August 23rd, 2011
4:25 pm

As long as they do not band sexting, I will be OK.

Beverly Hall

August 23rd, 2011
4:26 pm

Facebook was never a problem for APS.

Brett

August 23rd, 2011
5:23 pm

There is some misunderstanding of the scope of this law.
A teacher cannot use a work related website, cell phone,or email account unless a parent or guardian and an administrator has access to all messages that are sent to students.
A teacher cannot use a non-work related website if that website has the capability to send an exclusive message to a student. It does not matter if the parent or guardian has access to the message; it does not matter if the teacher never would use such a website to contact the student. Either way, the teacher cannot use a non-work related website if that website even has the capability to send an exclusive message to a student.

No personal facebook accounts. No gmail or yahoo mail accounts. No g+. No twitter accounts. No blog accounts. Some districts are implementing this by flat out telling teachers that they must delete any such accounts. Others are simply requiring teachers to turn over the passwords to any personal email, blog, or social media accounts to school administrators; and personal cell phones must be turned over on demand to check text messages.

This law is far more extensive than “no friending”.

historydawg

August 23rd, 2011
5:28 pm

Good teachers are involved in the education and the lives of their students. Nothing there needs to be in appropriate or unprofessional, but it does demand that teachers exist in the two-dimensional world that consumes the students. Facebook affords teachers important and noteworthy teachable moments, elaborating on discussions, guiding the nature of debate, etc. that happen on social media sites (often that begin with classroom discussions). Social media is often useful in stopping bullying and harassment that plague the teenage world. Let the teachers be professionals and make adult decisions. Teachers, though many on this board consistently deny, are adults who are generally trustworthy and supportive of children.

Framer Intent?

August 23rd, 2011
7:17 pm

My issue is not with any of this…

The lawsuit states: “…exercise of first amendment rights of speech, association, religion, collective bargaining and other constitutional rights by school teachers,”

When did collective bargaining become a constitutional right? Did I miss an ammendment or 2?

DB

August 23rd, 2011
9:11 pm

@catlady: Of COURSE I am aware of the Bartow County teacher who was fired over her Facebook account. I was very clear in my post: Teachers are absolutely entitled to FB on their own time, but students and teachers on FB don’t mix – it blurs the line between “friend” and “professional relationship”. I think what happened to that poor teacher was a travesty — she’s at Georgia State now working on her masters, and hopes she can find a job when she finishes. Her bruhaha had nothing to do with students — it was suspected to be a disgruntled colleague who made an anonymous “complaint’ about her FB page. The school overreacted, big time, and I hope the courts throw the book at them.

DB

August 23rd, 2011
9:16 pm

@Brett: If I were a teacher and my boss asked me for my password to my personal, private email account, I’d tell him to shove my password where the sun don’t shine . . . and then enjoy my day in court. What would be next — a hall monitor who looks over my U.S. Mail before it’s delivered?

On the other hand: Many companies have rules against no private emails at work. This wouldn’t apply to cell phones, of course, but a precedence has been made for restricting personal emails in a work environment using company equipment.

Prez Obozo

August 23rd, 2011
9:34 pm

A Georgia school teacher lost her job for having a beer on the table in a vacation picture on Face Book. A long time scum Georgia judge, Muscogee Superior Court Judge Douglas C. Pullen resigns after being accused of judicial misconduct. He was appointed by the governor. New the sum judge gets a high paying cush job teaching law at Mercer in Macon, Ga. Guess its who you are in bed with & kissing up too! Ashamed the politicians were not in session today & the earthquake which hit today did not swallow them up!

MamaT3

August 23rd, 2011
11:36 pm

So, I’m a Missouri Teacher and this proposes several problems: #1)How are Dual Credit and online teachers supposed to respond to students if they can’t e-mail them and can’t discuss learning issues openly due to confidentiality? (many districts due say that this law applies to e-mails.) #2) Why can’t I be friends with my own child or my nieces and nephews on Facebook just because they also happen to be school age. (Some districts are saying that we can’t.) #3) Why can’t I text or e-mail my own child or nieces and nephews? (Again, some districts interpret the law that we can’t.) #4) What am I supposed to do when I take my now teenage son and his friends somewhere? I can’t text his friends now as my son’s mother because, GASP, I’m a teacher. I guess I have to hope that they all stay together and that my son’s phone never goes dead #5) I am a coach and I have before school practices. If a student doesn’t show-up, and I can’t get ahold of their parent. I will just have to hope that they are okay I guess. By the same token, if I accept an emergency text saying that one of my students is stranded in a ditch and needs help, I am again in violation of the law… #6) What about the kids at youth group in church? If they have a problem should I ignore them? There are many, many more senarios…

Sorry folks, but if a teacher can’t abide by the law that they shouldn’t behave inappropriately with students, this law is going to stop them. Parents should be given the option to allow or not allow this, NOT the state. This is only going to hurt the students and teachers that are acting correctly.

soniariley

August 24th, 2011
5:01 am

The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, states that no teacher can be “friends” via online mediums such as Facebook, with former or current students. http://bit.ly/q6iHzc

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Excidus

August 24th, 2011
3:18 pm

If they want to communicate with their students better and easier then create a FB page for the class (Freshman English Period 2, Etc..) and not the teachers personal FB page cause I can see where it might be an issue kids being able to see the teachers personal information.

MS Teacher

August 24th, 2011
9:57 pm

I’ve had a FB for years, well before it was open to the public (I was taking classes and had a .edu email – my daughter, a college student at the time invited me). I don’t friend students – I tell them at the start of the year that they don’t need to know my business, and I most certainly don’t need or want to know theirs. That being said, I do have a class page, in addition to my school blog, and I use it for posting interesting links, current events, school events, etc.

The funny thing for me, reading this posts, is everyone commenting about the TEACHER contacting the students, when in my experience, it’s been 100% the other way. The kids contact ME w/ questions about due dates, clarifying points from class, etc, etc. They are so used to communicating instantly through social media that they don’t give it second thought. What some of you describe (phone calls, waiting until the next day to ask in class) is an anathema to them.

Final thought on communication – it is a trend, particularly for high-poverty schools, to encourage (sometimes require) that teachers give their cell phone numbers out to students. I’m not sure who start this, but I believe Ron Clark may have popularized it (I may be wrong on that one). It’s supposed to help foster a sense of community and provide a support network. I’m not for that one, unless the district is paying for my cell phone.