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Missouri Schools Teachers Unfriend New Facebook Law

social media, student conduct

Missouri teachers purge, unfollow their student "friends"

A new state law has Missouri teachers scrambling to purge students from their Facebook friend lists before school starts later this month. Plenty of teachers, who say Facebook was a great tool for communicating with students, are also protesting the new law, saying it’s vague, over-reaching and also kind of accuses Facebook using teachers of being perverts.

The law was proposed after a recent Associated Press investigation found that between 2001 and 2005, 87 Missouri teachers had lost their licenses due to sexual misconduct with students. But proponents say it’s not such a big deal — they just want to better define teacher-student boundaries. Lawmakers argue teachers can set up FB pages, which the students are allowed to “like,” in order to post lessons, etc.

But teachers argue the law gives districts the ability to cut off an important conduit of communication with students, one that allows students to speak less guardedly — and perhaps to show signs of needing help. More than one teacher has written to the governor telling a story of how a serious life issue was revealed on Facebook and the teacher was able to intervene.

MSNBC describes the law like this:

The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, does not outright prohibit teachers from interacting with students on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other sites. Instead, it requires local school districts to create written policies by January that outline “appropriate use of electronic media such as text messaging and Internet sites for both instructional and personal purposes.”

It will be up to individual districts to define “exclusive access,” but in general the law holds that any contact must be made in the public sphere rather than through private messages. So teachers can set up public Facebook pages or Twitter accounts but can’t reach out to their students as friends or followers, or vice versa.

I wrote before that I love nicely defined boundaries between adults and kids, but then I’m not a teacher. Since I cover parenting news, of course I’m also very aware of how direct and private communication with kids has been abused. But for the determined pervert, that kind of access will be found no matter what the law says.

What I’d like to point out is that this law was the reaction to an investigation from 2001 to 2005, at least a year before Facebook was even founded and more than that for Twitter. So it feels like the reaction of a bunch of non-tech savvy old fogies who don’t themselves use the technology and therefore can’t really understand what is and is not possible in a tweet or status update.

Photo: keiya via flickr

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