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Government, Politics & Issues

Mo. repeals teacher-student Internet restrictions


Updated at 6:23 p.m. to include comments from the bill's sponsor, and Gov. Nixon's criticism of the bill, despite signing it

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has signed legislation repealing a contentious law, known by some as the "Facebook law," that had limited online discussions between teachers and students.

Nixon's signature Friday will delete a law enacted earlier this year barring teachers from using websites that allow "exclusive access" with current or former students 18 or younger. Some teachers raised concerns that they would be restricted from using social media sites such as Facebook, which allow private messages.

The original bill and the so-called "fix" were both sponsored by State Senator Jane Cunningham (R, Chesterfield).

“All we were trying to do originally was prohibit hidden communication between staff and minor children where their parents or an appropriate staff member could not monitor  it," Cunningham said.  "We found that most districts already had policies that gave that kind of protection.”

The new legislation also requires school districts to develop policies on the use of electronic media between employees and students. The policies must be in place in school districts by March 1, 2012.

A Missouri judge had placed a temporary hold on the Internet law shortly before it was to take effect in August.

Lawmakers approved the new legislation during their current special session.  In his special session call, Governor Nixon had asked lawmakers to only remove the language in question and not add anything new.  Nixon signed the bill, anyway, but while doing so also criticized it, saying it was worded in a way that could still lead to some confusion over how to implement policies designed to protect children from predators.  

The Missouri State Teachers Association, which previously filed suit against the law and received the aforementioned temporary hold in response, responded to the news on their blog Friday. They say they "will consider further action in the lawsuit we filed to prevent violations of educators’ first amendment and workplace rights" due to the fact that the bill signed into law by Nixon today, SB1, "repeals the original provisions of Senate Bill 54."


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