Missouri has passed a law making it illegal for state teachers to friend their students on Facebook.
Governor Jay Nixon signed Missouri State Bill 54, which bans students and teachers from communicating and being “friends” on the social networking site. The law was created to prevent inappropriate relationships between children and teachers.
“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,” the law states. “Teachers also cannot have a non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”
The law is not limited to Facebook and applies to any social networking site. Although Facebook fan pages will still be allowed, direct communication between teachers and students on the site will be banned.
Although some critics have said the concept sounds positive on the surface, they worry it may imply that teachers may not be trusted on the site without legal intervention.
Others worry that restricting sites such as Facebook could hinder the educational process in the future.
“Legislators should use caution when regulating online tools that can be instrumental for educational purposes,” said Rainey Reitman, activism director at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “We may find a time when Facebook and other similar services can be used as a valuable teaching tool and it would be a shame to see it squashed by short-sighted legislation.”
In 2010, Lee County school district in Florida advised teachers not to friend students on social networking sites, claiming that teacher-student communication through this medium is “inappropriate.”
This was the first school district in the state of Florida, possibly even the country, to issue teacher-protocol guidelines for social media.
School officials issued a list of guidelines to all district employees suggesting they not correspond with students through sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The guidelines also warned employees to be careful when using online communication to prevent legal or workplace issues that could surface.
The guidelines weren’t issued from a punitive standpoint, but a proactive one, according to Joseph Donzelli, director of communications and printing services at Lee County Public Schools.
“We don’t want teachers and students to do something they might regret,” Donzelli told TechNewsDaily.
“We’ve heard stories from across the country about people posting things on Facebook that have come back to haunt them. We aren’t the Internet police or Big Brother, we just want our teachers and students to make good decisions – and these guidelines will help them do so,” Donzelli added.