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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  1. identicon
    Brian, 29 Aug 2011 @ 10:53am

    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.

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