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Missouri State Teachers Association Sues State over Social Networking Law
The Missouri State Teachers Association is suing to repeal part of a law that places limits on the communication teachers can have with students, particularly through social networking platforms.
MSTA argues in its lawsuit, filed against the state, Governor Jeremiah Nixon, and Attorney General Chris Koster, that the portion of the law targeting social networks violates teachers' constitutional rights.
"The act 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," according to the lawsuit.
Senate Bill 54, signed by Governor Nixon in July and scheduled to take effect August 28, says in part, "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. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated."
The bill, also refered to as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, was passed by both houses of the Missouri legislature with support from MSTA.
According to information on the organization's Web site, the "bill received support from MSTA because it required school districts to disclose substantiated claims of abuse about its employees to other schools considering hiring those employees."
MSTA is also asking for an injunction to stop the relevant section of the law from taking effect until the court can determine its constitutionality.
The Missouri National Education Association, also a supporter of the bill, yesterday hosted a conference call with the office of state Sen. Jane Cunningham clarify the law.
"School is starting and we want to seek clarity for both teachers and students as quickly as possible," said Missouri NEA President Chris Guinther in a statement released by the organization. "When we heard about the varied interpretations of the law, we immediately contacted Senator Cunningham, the original bill sponsor, to propose solutions that could be considered in the September special legislative session."
The full text of Senate Bill 54 can be found at senate.mo.gov.
Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].