This is a follow-up to an article I wrote back in early September that dealt with a pending law in Missouri which would have prevented teachers and students from communicating privately over the Internet on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and could have had national implications.
The law, also known as Senate Bill 54 or the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, was to take effect in August but was blocked by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem who said at the time the law "would have a chilling effect" on free-speech rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. According to the AP... "The law generated an unexpected backlash, with teachers raising concerns they would be barred from using popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter that allow private messages."
Among the leaders of the backlash were the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) who contended the new law wouldviolate free speech and other rights and filed a lawsuit to block the law, stating "The act is so vague and over-broad that (teachers) cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted and what is prohibited and thereby 'chills' the exercise of first amendment rights of speech, association, religion, collective bargaining and other constitutional rights."
Well not long ago the MSTA and everyone else opposed to the law got some good news as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed legislation that included new, revised language, replacing the language previously part of the law. Not that the governor was confident this would be end of the matter, saying "This bill is not as good as it should be, but to veto it would return us to a bill that would be far worse."
So Was There Any Joy In Mudville?
Just as I did back in September, I reached out to Aurora Meyer, Online Community Coordinator from the MSTA to get her take on everything...
SO: What was your reaction when you got news that the revised law, with new language in it had been signed into law?
AM: It's a step in the right direction. Our concern is now what happens at the district level, there are 523 individual districts in the state. Critics contend that SB 1 turns the social media communication issue back to the district and could potentially create more problems in the long run with the possibility of 523 different policies. The chance of that actually occurring is slim because the Missouri School Boards' Association (MSBA) writes policy that the majority of the school districts in the state will adopt. MSTA is working with MSBA to create a policy that suitably addresses teacher interests.
As we've noted before, many districts already have policies in place addressing social media and technology. Any policy that is overbroad or inhibits teachers from interacting with students using social media in a positive way could be challenged. For example, if an administrator tells a teacher they cannot use Facebook at all, that would infringe on an educator's first amendment rights outside of the classroom.
SO: What's the most important thing parents, teachers and students should take from all of this?
AM: We want to make clear to school districts throughout Missouri, if they have a policy that is overreaching, we'll pursue any avenue we need to, to make sure teachers rights are protected in that district.
SO: Do you think this will have any effect on other states and how they handle social media policies within their schools?
AM: Different districts have different needs, a blanket policy doesn't allow for the school district which uses gmail as their primary email to have a different policy from one that has a healthy technology budget. As deeper cuts are made to education budgets, free technology and free alternatives will continue to become more and more important.
SO: What role do you see Social Media playing not only know but in the future in the educational process?
AM: It should constantly change and evolve as technology changes and evolves. If we want to truly prepare students for the future, for jobs and careers that have yet to be invented, we should be teaching them to use technology and adapt and change. What better way to do that then by using it? By learning to use a Google Doc and web conference technology now, students can be better prepared for the next thing and the one after that.
Ok, so let me ask you as a parent or even someone who doesn't have any children...
Should teachers be allowed to communicate with their students via social media as long as it's for educational purposes?