New Missouri Law May Make It Illegal To Friend Your Former Teachers On Facebook

from the for-the-children! dept

Gabriel Tane points us to another odd state law coming out of Missouri, where it appears that schoolteachers could run afoul of the law if they friend any former student on Facebook. Part of the problem here is that the law in question is worded incredibly vaguely. But the text does say:
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.
This is the part that would seem to cover friending any current or former student on Facebook. While plenty of teachers I know refuse to friend students on Facebook just out of principle (and general caution), to make it illegal seems extreme. That's doubly true when it includes "former" students. At some point, former students grow up and become fully functioning adults (one hopes). At that point, does it still make sense to make it illegal for the student and teacher to have contact? Update: As pointed out in the comments, the law does define "former student" to mean someone under the age of 18, meaning that former students over the age of 18 can be friended safely...

The bill is clearly targeted at stopping sexual relationships between teachers and students, which is a perfectly admirable goal. But, like so many laws, it appears this one was written very poorly, and creates massive unintended consequences.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    David Muir (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 7:41am

    If the good teachers have a strong positive influence on people, then the education system has done its job. What better way to reap the benefits of that influence than by "keeping in touch" after the formal education is completed? Also, if I were a teacher, I would think one of the most fulfilling parts of the job would be seeing what students become as adults.

    Note that this is not as bad as it seems though. In the bill: "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." So catching up with your old high school teachers would be fine.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 8:41am

    While the law probably has a 1st amendment problem, it does define "former student" as being under 18 -- nothing like quoting half a law to make people go off half cocked...

    SECTION 162.069 - By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. 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.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:25am

      Re:

      What, you think actually he reads and understands the law before he writes this stuff?

       

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      Ninja (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:13am

      Re:

      That. I don't see a problem with adult students having relationships (sexual or not) with their teachers. Actually I think 18 is too old, underage should be 15 or less but that's another story.

      Yet another idiotic law that comes from the rotten moralism seed.

       

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      Peter S. Chamberlain (profile), Aug 8th, 2011 @ 2:05pm

      Re:

      "The Legislature, in its infinite wisdom" , , , "is presumed to have used every word carefully and intended the result of the words chosen" or not chosen. As a retired lawyer, I've dealt with a lot of state and federal laws, some of which I know were cobbled together in the middle of the night and are full of typos, computer glitches, and absurdities, not to mention special favors slipped in for big contributors and laws never intended to do what the title says they did, so politicians could tell one group they voted for a law and tell another they gutted it. For years, Texas' DWI law was so fouled up not even the appeals court justices could agree on what punishment it provided in some common situations. News coverage of legislation and other legal matters is quite generally awful and leaves out things like the provision in this law distinguishing current form former students. However, even with this, the law does appear to be an attempt to respond to a problem done badly.

       

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    fogbugzd (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 8:42am

    I teach at a university in Missouri, and at this point we are not sure whether this law applies to us. It is written VERY vaguely. Clearly the intent was not to include colleges and universities, but we have some overly-aggressive DA's in the state to complement our cadre of luddite legislators.

    Whether it applies to all teachers or not, the bottom line is that this probably won't prevent a single case of child abuse. It might actually prevent a child from reaching out to a teacher for help with another abuser.

    This law apparently applies to sites such as Linkedin as well as Facebook. It has become pretty common for teachers (high school and college) to write letters of reference for their students through Linkedin. But that is just one of many babies being thrown out with the bath water by this law.

     

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      Sean T Henry (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:17am

      Re:

      I do not see it as a problem in the university as long as the student is 19yrs or older.

      The real question is if the person is 18 but does not have the school listed or there age shared how can you be sure that it is ok.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:27am

      Re:

      Fogbugzd: No, this does not apply to you. It clearly states that this is a requirement for SCHOOL DISTRICTS. A university is not a school district.

      As far as teachers go, they don't have to *directly* comply with this, either. They just need to comply with the policy of their individual school district (which is required to be in compliance with what is stated in the law.)

      That doesn't mean I agree with the law. But before you can oppose it, you need to know what it IS.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 8:47am

    Leave it to the illiterate hicks in Missouri...

    ...to write something like this:

    "Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student."

    What does "have a [...] website" mean? Does that mean to own one? To operate one? To participate in one that someone else owns and operates? What if it's not a web site, but a newsgroup (NNTP) or a mailing list (SMTP) or something else?

    Missouri's legislators should probably stick to what they know best: supporting institutional racism and bigotry.

     

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      mrtraver (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 7:06pm

      Re: Leave it to the illiterate hicks in Missouri...

      "Missouri's legislators should probably stick to what they know best: supporting institutional racism and bigotry."

      Show links or admit you made this up. Missouri's legislators have made a lot of poor decisions in the last few years, including overturning the will of the voters on some laws and skating on some incredibly thin ethical ice on some issues, but I can't find a single instance of what you claim.

       

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    John Doe, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 8:50am

    Think of the children!

    Wait, don't think of them, that would be illegal!

     

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    specialized (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 8:53am

    Ha, now that this law is in effect there is absolutely no way for sexual predator teachers who have access to children for 8 hours a day, 180 days a year to prey on their students. No way at all.

     

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    Scooters (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 8:53am

    My plants will grow well thanks to the fertilizer.

    "...out of principle (and general caution)."
    The statement in parens is the problem in this country. Every teacher, especially if they're male, is a pedophile first, teacher second.

    Benjamin Franklin was more a genius than Einstein.

     

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    captain hindsight (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:05am

    what the state should have done is require mandatory chemical castration for all teachers (men and women) as a job requirement. this could have been easily sold to the public by pointing out that it is all about catching child predators.

    what the schools should have done is set up web sites open to the parents, teachers, school, and students in order to allow the exchange of information in an open forum and required everyone to use it, on penalty of chemical castration

    what the students should have done is claim every teacher in the building has molested them on multiple occasions. no particular reason, just for lulz.

     

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      A Dan (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:23am

      Re:

      what the state should have done is require mandatory chemical castration for all teachers (men and women) as a job requirement.

      And they think it's hard to find teachers now.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:24am

    Confused again

    "... a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student."
    Am I missing something obvious? What is "exclusive" access vis-a-vis a publicly-browsable website?

     

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      FuzzyDuck, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 4:09pm

      Re: Confused again

      Let's see, Gmail is a non-work related website and it allows teachers to have exclusive "access" with current and former students.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:25am

    So,

    If I friend one of my father's best friends, who was also my 9th grade history teacher I could get arrested?

    What a bunch of Nimrods.

     

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      btr1701 (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:45am

      Re: So,

      > If I friend one of my father's best friends,
      > who was also my 9th grade history teacher
      > I could get arrested?

      Even better: what if you went to school where your actual parent is a teacher? Could your parents be legally barred from communicating with you or 'friending' you on the internet?

       

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        Sean T Henry (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:11am

        Re: Re: So,

        Only if it you make them a friend after/when you attend the school, if you friend them before then you were not a student just some kid.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:18am

          Re: Re: Re: So,

          That doesn't matter Sean. It says "allows exclusive access". It says nothing about when the access is granted.

          One can hope that when the districts actually implement these policies, they are written a bit better and have exceptions for things like relatives.

           

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    kentiler (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:47am

    My kids have many teachers that use Facebook as a means for contact, when they need help with an assignment, or even for extra credit.

    Any type of technology could be used for inappropriate behavior between staff and students - email would be the easiest - but let's make use of technology where it can help!

    --Kent

     

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      Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 11:46am

      Re:

      My kids have many teachers that use Facebook as a means for contact, when they need help with an assignment, or even for extra credit.

      There was a news story a month or two ago about one of the charter schools who require that their teachers have times in the evening where students and parents can contact them for assistance with assignments - and how Facebook has made it easy for teachers to do this without causing undue disruptions to the rest of their lives.

      Great law. Make it illegal for teachers to be able to assist their students in the ways that make it easy for both teachers and students.

       

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        btr1701 (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 1:15pm

        Re: Re:

        > There was a news story a month or two ago
        > about one of the charter schools who require
        > that their teachers have times in the evening
        > where students and parents can contact them
        > for assistance with assignments

        Sheesh. Talk about an incredible imposition on what little free time teachers have to themselves.

        HUSBAND: Hey, want to go out to dinner or see a movie tonight?

        WIFE: No, I have to be at home in front of the computer from 8-9 PM tonight (and every other night, too) so that if a student or parent needs to ask me a question on Facebook, I'll be available to answer it.

         

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    pamnatedog, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:52am

    What about ur MOM

    So really this law means no adding ur Mom, Dad or siblings either. If any of these people were teachers, even sub teachers then they cant be added right? When i was in high school a friend of mine went to a high school where she earned college credit her last 2 years and when she turned 18 she sub teached at my high school. if i lived in that state i would have to boot her and now that im thinking about it her future hubby too cause he was 16 at the time, lol awesome law makers, lol

     

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    Lord Binky, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 9:56am

    Pen & Paper (RPG....maybe?)

    Glad good ol' Pen and Paper is acceptable communication between a sexual predator teacher and student.

     

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    Austin (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:01am

    One Less Reason to Use Facebook

    I have 3 friends on facebook. One is my mom, one is my best friend, and one is my 8th grade science teacher. My mom and my best friend both communicate via Jabber, so basically the only reason I ever sign into facebook is my old teacher. I'm 24, and I have no interest in her physically (frankly, she's just the only teacher in my entire school career I've ever known who wasn't a total bitch. Ever. At all.)

    So now I'll have no reason to ever go there again. I mean, I'm in Alabama, but anything that's "for the children" spreads like wildfire.

    Dammit Google, open up Plus to Google Apps users now please!

     

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    jsl4980 (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:01am

    Wow that's a crazy over reaching law. I was friends with a teacher who helped mentor and support many current and former students. She gladly helped by writing recommendations and to give advice. Another former teacher of mine is in a good local band and he's friends with a ton of former students who go to his shows.

    It's easy to see the thought process behind this law, but as always there will be unintended consequences for teachers and students. They're going to destroy so many good productive and helpful relationships because the good teachers will be worried about the new law. And the bad/predatory teachers obviously don't care about breaking one extra law if they're already planning on breaking much more serious laws.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:02am

    If you read the law, it actually doesn't make it illegal to friend a current or former student on Facebook. It simply requires that each district have a written policy prohibiting it.

    So instead of going to jail, you'll just lose your job. At least that's SLIGHTLY more reasonable.

    On the other hand, when it says "allows exclusive access"... that doesn't even say you need to GRANT exclusive access, just that it "allows" it. Since Facebook does allow you to friend people, I think just having a Facebook page is in violation of this policy, poorly written as it is.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:33am

      Re:

      Mike... you should really change the title of the article. All the law does is require school districts to have a written policy prohibiting this behavior. Last time I checked, violating a school district policy is not "illegal".

      Instead of "New Missouri Law May Make It Illegal To Friend Your Former Teachers On Facebook", how about "New Missouri Law May Prohbit Friending Your Former Teachers On Facebook"? (Well, technically they are prohibited from friending you, there's nothing stopping you from friending them.)

       

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      MD, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 11:40am

      Re: "Exclusive Access"

      Actually, my email provider is MS Live. One way I get my mail is via a website, where individual users have exclusive access to their own mailbox... Sort of like facebook messaging. SO having an email account that also includes web access to your mail (pretty much all of them) is a violation too.

      The problem is over-recation stupidity. You can't look at other people's children, you can't take pictures if they are in the picture, you can't offer to help a child; even a female teacher nowadays is frightened to hug them; you don't want to be alone in a room with them, you don't want to discuss anything beyond the classroom, especially nothing to enthusiatically...

      I have an idea -why don't they just make it illegal to have inappropriate sexual contact (touch or speech) with a child and then... enforce that law.

       

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    TDR, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:02am

    And this is what comes of having laws written in legalese. As I've said before, I think it would be better if all laws and legal documents were written in plain language so all can understand. That way there would be less chance of having bad, vaguely worded laws with loopholes you could drive through with a Mack truck.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 10:15am

    OH WON'T SOMEBODY

    JUST SOMEBODY PLEEEEEEEEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

     

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    Gabriel Tane (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 11:07am

    Another law named after a victim

    Does anyone else remember reading an opinion piece recently somewhere that all these laws that come out named after the victim they're trying to 'honor' by protecting everyone else are bad ideas?

    So instead of introducing legislation (or school policy as one AC points out) that would allow these public channels to be monitored... we're going to force the 'problem connections' further out of the light and make them harder to see.

    Or, and I know this is a wild idea, how about parents TEACH THIER CHILDREN THAT ADVANCES BY TEACHERS ARE A BAD THING! And (yeah, I know... CRAZY...) those same parents can help keep an eye on what thier kids are doing! SHOCKING.

    We've tried abstinence education... failed.
    We've tried censorship... failing.
    We've tried relying on technology to raise our kids... failed
    We've tried censoring the technology... failed in flames.
    Parental responsibility in raising children and teaching the basics of social interaction at home... haven't tried that yet, have we?

    Yet another example of politicians and lawmakers trying to win favor by acting 'for the kids' without actually doing anything about the symptom... MUCH less anything about the problem.

     

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    Lance (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 11:08am

    The law doesn't do what's being discussed here. It says written policies must be implemented regarding social networking sites. There are no restrictions in the law regarding them. Perhaps those policies will attempt to restrict friending somehow, but there's no indication of that in this law.
    It says a teacher can't have his/her own "work-related" site that is not accessible by admins and parents. Further, it says a teacher's personal website (non-work related) must be available to all, or zero current/former students. No exclusive access for any particular student.
    That's all it says.

     

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    jackn, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 11:35am

    Your headline is misleading

    New Missouri Law May Make It Illegal for your Teacher to friend you On Facebook

    I know it not as sensational, but more accurate

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 11:39am

      Re:

      No, not even that, if you look at my previous comment. The teacher may get fired for it, but it isn't illegal. It's just a policy that school districts will be required to implement.

       

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    bsod, Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 12:34pm

    what about teachers who just post random things to twitter, or maybe even a politically active teacher who gets followed by a student

     

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    mrtraver (profile), Aug 3rd, 2011 @ 7:19pm

    This does not even mention the scariest part.

    According to the Kansas City Star, Sen. Jane Cunningham, who sponsored the bill, said "If social media are a pathway to sexual misconduct which we have found that they are then eventually (this law) is going to stop the whole problem."

    It scares the hell out of me that one of my legislators has her head so far in the sand that she thinks addressing this single supposed "pathway" is truly going to eliminate inappropriate teacher-student sexual relationships.

    http://www.kansascity.com/2011/08/02/3053598/new-missouri-law-on-social-media.html#storylink=mis earch

     

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