Missouri teachers sue to block social media law

KANSAS CITY, Mo Sat Aug 20, 2011 1:48pm EDT

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KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - In the face of a lawsuit, a Missouri state senator defended on Saturday a new state law that will prohibit teachers from communicating privately with students over the Internet.

A teachers group filed a lawsuit Friday afternoon contending the new lawsuit violates free speech and other rights, but the senator who sponsored it says it does nothing of the kind.

"It doesn't stop any avenue of communication whatsoever, it only prohibits hidden communication between educators and minors who have not graduated," said state Senator Jane Cunningham, a St. Louis Republican and key sponsor of the law.

School districts statewide are being required to adopt new policies to comply with the law beginning January 1, but the Missouri State Teachers Association said in its lawsuit that banning social media contact is unconstitutional.

"The act is so vague and over-broad that (teachers) 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," says the lawsuit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court in the state capital of Jefferson City.

The lawsuit names the state, the governor and attorney general as defendant and seeks a court injunction and hearing.

Representatives of the teachers' association and other groups said they are unaware of any state with a law as restrictive as the one in Missouri.

The law permits teacher-student contact if the Internet site can be viewed by parents, administrators or the public. Teachers and students can still e-mail and text each other as long as someone is copied, Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the teachers' association supported the law and helped draft some of the language last spring.

"It seems like they are suing their own work," she said.

But Todd Fuller, spokesman for the teachers' association, said Saturday the group did not review the final language on social media usage. That language on social media contact is just one part of a larger bill intended to discourage private relationships between teachers and students that have sometimes led to sexual abuse.

Teachers have said the vast majority of their private contacts with students over the Internet are education-related and can be helpful, especially for shy students. The lawsuit made a similar point.

"Plaintiffs have used and are using non-work-related social networking sites as an important avenue for contact with students, both during emergencies and for everyday educational issues, such as when a student has difficulty with a classroom assignment or identifying bullying," the lawsuit states.

(Writing and reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)

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Comments (5)
Franis wrote:
Obviously, these Luddite lawmakers have no clue about how teachers have been using social media such as Twitter hashtag areas to interact with students during class. According to this law, if a teacher uses social media – their only motive MUST be nefarious! Pretty soon the point of view of this stupid assumption will make all adults wary of ANY contact with a kid!

Aug 20, 2011 10:40pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Prairiefire wrote:
I just wonder if these same lawmakers would ban the sale of military and semi automatic weapons with large capacity magazines? According to their way of thinking. These weapons do more harm that Facebook. As long as you can still shoot a single shot weapon, you are not breaking the law of the constitution. Interesting?

Aug 21, 2011 7:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ObamaSucks wrote:
The institutionalization of society marches on.

You are all just criminals in this penal istitution known as America.
You need to be watched carefully, told what to eat, searched and frisked when you move about, not store your medicines in the containers the wardens do not like, be subjected to confrontations with aggressive law enforcement officers who shoot dogs when they want to speak with you.

Be thankful that is all, for you obese, energy wasting, pedophile, drug abusing terrorist citizens deserve far worse…

Aug 21, 2011 7:51am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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