Missouri’s Senate has recently put forth new legislation banning contact between teachers and their current or previous students on social networking sites. The bill, called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, takes its name from Amy Hestir, a woman who has come forth to share her harrowing story of sexual abuse after hearing about the bill.
This bill has drawn criticism from the Missouri State Teacher’s Association (MSTA), who filed a suit on the grounds that the social media portion of the bill was too vague. The MSTA, which was awarded an injunction by a Missouri court, has claimed that this is an unreasonable violation of teachers’ first amendment rights and an unnecessary impediment to communication with their students, much of which takes place via digital devices and media. While the bill does contain many items that should be put into effect, the restriction on social media contact between teachers and students is one step too far.
This is a violation of the constitutional rights of teachers and school administrators. It is unconstitutional for a state government to restrict whom a state employee can or can not contact or communicate with. Teachers and students being friends on Facebook, or any other site, falls under the umbrella of the First Amendment and cannot be prohibited.
This addendum in the bill is also a step too far because it gives into the impulse to prohibit anything that could possibly turn out negatively. Although, in my opinion, it would be unwise to friend a teacher or school administrator on Facebook, that does not mean that it is a bad thing altogether. Teacher-student friendships can allow for extra help when needed, or reminders of important project due dates or expectations for homework or other assignments.
While it is important to put safeguards up to prevent further abuse of the teacher-student relationship, it is important that we do not craft laws that keep teachers from effectively doing their jobs. Contact between teachers and students via the internet and digital channels can be helpful to students and can allow a teacher to provide more personalized attention to students who may get lost in a large-sized class.
Instead of a blanket ban on teacher-student contact via social networks, schools should instead offer information to parents about the potential dangers of social media (in all aspects, not just in relation to educators) and each district should come up with strict guidelines as to what is appropriate. Perhaps teachers should be allowed to set up and monitor groups but be prohibited from directly messaging students. Educators and administrators need training and clear expectations from their respective districts, not just a fire-and-forget ban of this nature.
There is a lot of potential for social media to enhance the education experience. Prohibition of exploring that medium based on mere potential to do harm is a bad thing. In order to prevent abuses from occurring, schools should set up strict guidelines and keep a watchful eye on teachers for their students’ sakes.
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