Missouri has taken a definitive step in limiting the Internet interactions of teachers and students by making it against state law for students to be Facebook friends with their teachers. Senate Bill 54 will go into effect on August 28th and make it official. Dubbed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act after a sexual molestation victim, the law is chiefly concerned with protecting students from sexual abuse by their teachers. The illegalization of the teacher-student “friend” relationships is not the bill’s only concern, but it is naturally the one that has caught attention.
ZDNet quotes section 162.069 of the bill, which pertains to the matter of social networking:
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. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.
This new law seems to be somewhat of a double-edged sword and that fact is highlighted by the language above. On the one hand, this is a great step towards quashing the stupid Facebook-related problems concerning teachers that have gotten in touble for being photographed while drinking or doing other legal, but distinctly adulty things. It also seems teachers will still be allowed to interact with students, as long as it is in a completely public manner.
On the other hand, the stipulation that teachers may not even have private connections with former students seems like it might be a bit overzealous. Presumably this law only pertains to children under the age of 18, but it could still stifle otherwise healthy and beneficial mentor relationships between teachers and their older students.
It’s certain that this new law will prevent some kind of Facebook interaction that would have otherwise negatively affected the parties involved, whether it is by robbing a pedophile of a private means of communication with a child (of which there are many alternatives) or by preventing the kind of social networking faux pas that have cost teachers their jobs in the past. Still, state law seems like a heavy-handed and reactionary way of dealing with a problem that is more directly rooted in the changing definition of what constitutes an appropriate level of friendliness and informality in a student-teacher relationship, a topic that needs to be reexamined in a social context, not a legal one.