Missouri 'Facebook' Law: Judge Grants Injunction Against Limits on Online Contact Between Teachers and Students
Law intention was to protect against sexual predators; teachers complained.
Aug. 26, 2011 — -- A Missouri judge has granted an injunction against a new state law meant to protect children from sexual predators at school. Teachers said the law was so broadly worded it would stop them from using the Internet to contact kids -- even their own -- for the most innocent of reasons.
The law, called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, was scheduled, until today's injunction, to take effect Sunday. It states, among its other provisions, that teachers may not contact their students through electronic communications, such as instant messages or Facebook posts, that cannot be seen by others.
"The breadth of the prohibition is staggering," said Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem in granting the request for injunction by the Missouri State Teachers Association. "It clearly prohibits communication between family members and their teacher parents using these types of sites. The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech."
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon joined in, calling today for the state legislature to repeal the provisions of the law concerning student-teacher communications.
"I will ask the General Assembly to repeal that particular section, while preserving other vital protections included in the bill," he said in a statement. "In addition, I will be asking for input on this issue from teachers, parents and other stakeholders."
The law was sponsored by State Sen. Jane Cunningham, a Republican from the St. Louis suburbs, who argued that all she wanted to limit was "hidden communications" between teachers and students that could not be monitored by third parties, such as parents or school administrators.
"A lot of sexual relationships start with the most innocent text message: 'How do I do this math problem?' or 'I'm going to be late for practice,'" said Cunningham.
"This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to aproper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language thatdoesn't resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacherinput," said Gail McCray, counsel for the teachers' association.