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Missouri Teachers Sue to Block Student-Teacher Facebook Ban

A few weeks ago, a law was passed in Missouri that would make it illegal for teachers to have non-public interactions with their students on Facebook. The law was set to go into effect on August 28th, but now the Missouri State Teachers Association has sued in an attempt to block it.

While it’s easy to imagine a variety of objections teachers might have to this legislation, the claim the Teachers Association is making in their suit is that the law violates right to free speech, a claim which may or may not actually be true. Reuters quotes state Senator Jane Cunningham as putting it this way

It doesn’t stop any avenue of communication whatsoever, it only prohibits hidden communication between educators and minors who have not graduated.

The Missouri State Teachers Association, of course, begs to differ. The lawsuit brings some pretty legitimate criticisms to bear. One is that the law is overly broad and that the threat of prosecution under it will hamper the right to free speech. While that is the crux of lawsuit’s arguement to block the bill on the basis of unconstitutionality, the teachers bring up several common sense points as well; private Internet communication allows for shyer students to receive attention they deserve and gives them an opportunity to broach subjects they could not broach in front of their classmates, such as, for example, bullying.

The lawmakers responsible for the bill are none-to-sympathetic however, and cite the fact that the Missouri State Teachers Association had a hand in constructing the legislation. While the Teachers Association confirms this, they contest that the law’s final wording on social media in particular — which they did not have a hand in — changes the context entirely.

While the bill’s chief purpose — to prevent private student-teacher communication that could lead to sexual abuse — seems noble enough, it’s clear that a lot of completely benign, potentially helpful communication is going to get caught in the crossfire. Although the lawsuit is focusing on the law’s potential to infringe on constitutional rights, it seems that the real contention is about the weight of the positive potential for interaction versus the negative and whether the cost is worth the benefit. It seems like it might be wise to take a third option and spend the time and effort educating kids about how to avoid abuse situations or how to deal with them should they arise, but for the moment, opposing parties will have to duke it out in this straw-man lawsuit.

(via Reuters)

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