Court Finds Law Blocking Teachers From Friending Students 'Staggering'; Blocks Implementation

from the oh-look,-there's-a-first-amendment-after-all dept

There was quite an uproar after Missouri passed a law to ban teachers from communicating with current or former students on social networking platforms like Facebook. It didn’t take long before teachers sued, and it was even faster for the court to issue an injunction blocking the implementation of the law, noting that it violated the First Amendment (thanks to Eric Goldman for the pointer). The judge made quick work of it. Here’s the relevant portion (and the full ruling is embedded below):

Section §163.069.4 RSMo implicates the rights of Plaintiffs protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Missouri Constitution in that it prohibits all teachers from using any non-work-related social networking sites which allow exclusive access with current and former students. Even if a complete ban on certain forms of communication between certain individuals could be construed as content neutral and only a reasonable restriction on “time, place and manner,” the breadth of the prohibition is staggering. The Court finds at based upon the evidence adduced at the preliminary injunction hearing, social networking is extensively used by educators. It is often the primary, if not sole manner, of communications between the Plaintiffs and their students. Examination of the statute indicates that it would prohibit all teachers from using any non-work-related social networking sites which allow exclusive access with current and former students. 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.

Given the fundamental nature of the right implicated, a “chilling effect” constitutes an immediate and irreperable harm sufficient to support a preliminary injunction.

Nice to see some courts willing to recognize that a First Amendment violation is irreparable harm. Too bad not all courts agree.

This isn’t the end for the law. It’s just an injunction barring it from being implemented until a full trial can be heard on the merits, but it sure sounds as if the court is pretty skeptical about the legality of the law as a whole.

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Comments on “Court Finds Law Blocking Teachers From Friending Students 'Staggering'; Blocks Implementation”

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Anonymous Coward says:

if they wanted to implement this they should make it part of the code of conduct / code of ethics that the teachers have to abide by to be employed.

In a nutshell, this is an ethical issue. Its really no different than requiring the teachers to not have sex with 18 year old students. Technically its legal to do so. Ethically it is a terrible thing to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think that as an adult, it is an issue to be a friend with an old teacher. However, teachers really should not be “friends” with their current students, especially if those students are under 18.

It would be considered somewhat inappropriate for a student and a teacher to spend their weekend together, or to go shopping together. Friending on Fezbook is pretty much the same deal, it creates a relationship that will never be equals, and could lead to bigger problems down the road.

A Dan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Facebook “friends” and real-world friends are completely different things.

I wish Facebook had used the term “Aquaintance” instead of “Friend”; maybe it would have avoided all this idiocy.

Here’s how it would go for you then:
I don’t think that as an adult, it is an issue to be a acquaintance with an old teacher. However, teachers really should not be “acquaintances” with their current students, especially if those students are under 18.

Clark Cox (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There is a *huge* difference between being a friend on Facebook and spending a weekend together or going shopping together.

That said, there are even cases where “spending the weekend together” is perfectly appropriate. For example, from 1st through 3rd grade, my teacher was also the parent of one of my friends. In 5th and 6th grade my teacher was the parent of another one of my friends. And finally, in 8th grade, my biology and physics teachers were parents of two more of my friends.

Should I have avoided going over to those friends’ houses for the weekend because they were also, by definition, my teacher’s houses?

Nathan F (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

As you should be. If your child is under 13 technically they shouldn’t even be on Facebook to begin with.

Should you be concerned if an adult teacher wanted to be a Facebook friend with your children? I don’t know, how about you get involved with your child’s life and whats going on at school. Go meet his/her teacher at a PTA Meeting and get to know the teacher and decide if you think any communication needs closer monitoring. In short, take an active role in your kids upbringing and interactions with others.

Clark Cox (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Your “what if” is just silly:
What happens if they get into an intimate conversation in the hallway?
What happens if they get into an intimate conversation in the classroom?
What happens if they get into an intimate conversation in the teacher’s office?
What happens if they get into an intimate conversation on a class trip?
What happens if they get into an intimate conversation if they happen to pass on the street?

If the conversation is inappropriate in one medium, then it is inappropriate in all of them. Besides, if something inappropriate happened to your child, wouldn’t you want a record of it that you could take to the proper authorities?

Reducing the contact that teachers have with your children is not, as you seem to believe, a good thing. As a parent, I want my children’s teachers as involved as possible. It’s a lot easier to learn from someone that you have a good relationship with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Nice list clark, and all of those would be relatively safe because other people would generally be around.

Facebook would allow your child (hiding in their room on your open wi-fi) to chat with their teacher without anyone knowing. I can’t imagine you don’t see the difference.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Clark, most parents allow their minor childen (under 18) to use the internet without supervision. It has sort of become the TV of a generation. It’s why there are so many members of anonymous who can’t buy beer, but they can sure run LOIC and take down mastercard.

Very few parents restrict internet use to “only when mom or dad is in the room”. It’s too bad, but it’s a fact of life. Your kid is way safer in a school full of kids with that teacher than they would be online chatting alone in private (and most kids also have webcams… you figure it out).

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

So therefore the parents are at fault and vicariously responsible if anything untoward happens to their children because of their lack of supervision since it happened under their roof. Ie: they had a duty, they breached that duty, the lack of duty caused harm, there was harm.. ipso facto Parents Negligent!!


See it works both ways. What you don’t seem to realise is that the actual laws are already in place to stop nefarious action by a person of responsibility (Teacher, priest, parent, Creating new ad-hoc and reactive laws that have huge chilling consequences far and away more restrictive than current laws that already provide an adequate ethical response are abhorrent in the extreme.

Oh and please define ‘intimate’, since I would suggest that a 1:1 face to face teaching/tutoring by any teacher is extremely intimate. Not to mention the familial intimacy that already is there (and covered under ethical guidelines already) between extended family (and close friends of parents) who are in a student/teacher situation.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

My point was that the teachers are at the same level of fault as the parents if within an in loco parentis situation, but they are held to a higher ethical framework, when in fact they should all be the same.

Strangely research indicates that 80%+ of all sexual abuses towards minors (children) are from familial relationships. ie: Extended family or close friends of families, with authority figures making up only around 5-10% at worst (strangers are the rest), though authority figures make for better news and for some reason people are more aghast at a teacher/priest/etc

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

> Clark, most parents allow their minor
> childen (under 18) to use the internet
> without supervision

Their bad parenting choices do not justify a law restricting everyone else’s freedom.

I am so sick of seeing this excuse constantly trotted out: “Well, you see, some parents really suck, so now we have to ban, restrict, or disallow everyone from doing X.”

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

> However, teachers really should not be
> “friends” with their current students

That might be true if a Facebook ‘friend’ was a real friendship. In reality it’s just a shorthand label Facebook invented because “included in my social network” isn’t as user-friendly and marketable.

Facebook “friends” aren’t actual “friends”. No one actually has 787 friends, although they may have that many people in their social network.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s a clear indication of favoritism and biased treatment. Both of which are big no-no’s for someone who has power over another in a professional sense.

Put another way, if the teacher were accused of such there is really no defense for it if they have friended the student on social media sites. Its a clear indication of more-than-professional relationship.

Given that it involves a minor and the hyper-spastic bullshit fear mongering that the media does over sexual predators in this country, i am frankly surprised that a teacher would really want to take such a risk.

MAC says:

Re: It is different

It is different, Freedom of Speech is fundamental to the American Way of Life and Freedom in general. This is nothing more than an attack on the very Freedom that the Founding Fathers spilled so much blood for.

You can’t tell me that communicating with a student is inherently wrong no more than you can tell me that coaches communicating with members of a little league baseball team is wrong.

This is obviously a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to a few (very few) bad apples in the educational system that deserve the criminal charges brought against them, however, their behavior does not warrant this type of restriction on my or anyone else?s First Amendment rights.

Remember, Freedom is not free; it is bought and paid for with the most expensive thing known to man, blood.

Brian (user link) says:

I don't think "Friending" is what you think it means...

@AC I think you’re giving the word “friend” here a little more weight than it deserves. Being a “friend” on facebook actually means nothing. I’m “friends” with people I’ve never met. I’m even “friends” with people I don’t like. But I am “friends” with them so that I can communicate with them using Facebook. Facebook has been used successfully as a communication tool in many class settings. Here at UF, we’re planning on using Google+ as a part of class to share links and discuss assigments, so there’s definitely value in allowing these lines of communication to remain open. I highly doubt that cutting teachers off from facebook is going to limit the ability of a few bad eggs to pursue relationships with their students.

New Mexico Mark says:

Re: I don't think "Friending" is what you think it means...

I’m not sure anyone has pointed this out or not, but like the trying to forbid certain kinds of advertisements on Craig’s List, forbidding teacher/student contact on commercial sites could actually hamper investigations of inappropriate relationships.

I’m generally against out-of-classroom/office contact between students and teachers because I think it is highly unprofessional and open to all kinds of abuse, favoritism, etc. However, recognizing that can and does happen, I prefer law enforcement to be able to obtain records of student/teacher contact from places like Facebook if there are questions of impropriety. This could help protect teachers from false accusations as well.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: Re: I don't think "Friending" is what you think it means...

Who is going to search through all this contact between teachers and students? Your talking about a lot of intel to go through and then its all really subjective in the end of the day…

I agree it may seem highly inappropriate but when I was outside of school and I saw a teacher they would much faster hail me out and say hi and then go on their merry way. So what are we as students or teachers supposed to do? Avoid outside contact entirely?

Jimr (profile) says:

The law should have been more detailed…
Like a teacher can not ‘friend’ or request ‘friend status’ from a current student on a social network.

And if they really worried about have the teacher also fully disclose to the principle when a pre-existing ‘friend’ attends their class. Like in the case of a relative or maybe even a neighbor or family friend.

I see that it could a bit of an issue when a current teacher wants to a friend a student. The teachers are in a noted position of power and it makes it hard (especially for a current student) to refuse. Like my teacher who was building a house and asked each student to come over and do a little ‘work’ on the house – I think shingled his whole house.

Given the quick advancement of social networks it should be quickly adopted into the teachers code of conduct/ethics. Installing in law means bring in lawyers and to many absolutes.


Precident for this....

Decades ago when I worked in the movie theater business, one major theater chain had a “non-fraternization” rule which basically forbade teen-agers who worked as ushers, concession workers, ticket takers etc. from fraternizing during off-duty hours! If you took this literally it would mean kids who attended school together would have to stop speaking to each other, certainly stop dating, and give up belonging to the same clubs, maybe stop sharing lockers or playing on the same teams. There was no attempt to enforce this silly rule, no way it could be enforced. But it was always there as a backup if they wanted to fire a kid they didn’t like or who they suspected of stealing or calling in sick too many times. This was all the more ironic when the theater pressured their employees to recruit their friends to hire on. Some even paid a small bounty. So you would get your friend a job but you would have to cease being friends.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Precident for this....

This is not at all the same.

One involves a private entity making rules as a condition of employment (rules which are generally not acceptable for companies to make anymore).

The other involves government obstructing an entire form of communication, not because of any wrongdoing, but simply because of the potential for wrongdoing.

The First Amendment applies only to the government, not to private entities, so your situations are not analogous.

Theoden (profile) says:

Who has the ethical problem?

The ACs who are proponents of the law remind me of the Congress Critters who go for the “Family Values” platform while screwing around themselves.

I believe that if you want to read something inappropriate into a FB Friendship, it is very possible. One can read something inappropriate into Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Little Women, and Peter Pan.

I think the scandal is all in the minds of those who would act inappropriately if they had a chance, and rather than allowing other people to figure that out, they go on the offense to deflect scrutiny of their own perverted little minds.

They will also be the ones making personal attacks against me in 3….2….1…

Anonymous Coward says:

No, AC19, its not a clear indication of favoritism and bias. Your comment is a clear indication of your jaded view of the world. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps there are teachers that friend their struggling students? Just because you immediately think of cronyism doen’t mean that the majority of teachers think that way.

INC says:

More nanny state mentality. Have people become so bored with their freedoms that they are so eager to hand them over to the government? It seems you can’t even wake up in the morning without breaking some kind of law, and if you don’t wake up I’m sure some were broken their as well.

Instead of focusing on what teachers can’t do, help them do what they are paid to do better.

Phoenix Bryant says:


The definition of “friend” in the realm of Facebook relates to no more than an e-mail contact with html support. So what you are saying then is that all teachers should be forbidden to store a students e-mail contact information in their address book, or e-mail them examples of relevant problems they are working on. You might as well tell the office to restrict their home contact information for communicating with students and the parents since we can’t trust any of our teachers. I guess this would also protect us from the teachers that establish a class wide Facebook page that “friends” ALL the students in their class in order to disseminate knowledge, events, projects, and build class unity. I think I can tell from these posting the ones that were sexually assaulted, violated, and abused when they were younger. Please seek therapy.

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