Monday, August 22, 2011

Social Media In The Classroom: The New Free Speech

A Missouri law designed to prevent improper contact between educators and students, specifically on Facebook and other social networking sites, is being challenged in court.

Politicians had hoped the legislation would lead to fewer problems arising from student-teacher contact outside the classroom. Instead, it has people saying the state is trying to limit free speech and abridge the rights of teachers and pupils.

I suppose it might have helped if the politicians had taken note of the way social media was used by educators following the tornado strike in Joplin (which happens to be located in Missouri) before deciding to take the stance that social media was bad.

A hammer can be (and has been on more than one occasion) used to crush a human skull mercilessly. That doesn't mean hammers should be made illegal. That would be a blatant case of blaming the tool when the user was at fault.

Social media is, ultimately, simply a tool for communication. It seems unlikely that it will lead to improper relations between teachers and students, especially when you consider they see each other every day in school. If the teacher is a predator there are myriad other ways for them to pursue students without social media.
After all, that happened plenty of times long before social media existed.

Free speech concerns have prompted the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) to take to court a new state law that limits social networking between educators and students.

The association is seeking an injunction against a section of the law that prevents teachers from interacting with students on nonwork-related social media sites unless the conversation is entirely public.

MSTA argues in its petition to the Circuit Court of Cole County in Missouri that nonpublic communication between students and teachers is an important tool and the law will have a “chilling effect” on the Constitutional rights of school district employees.
Todd Fuller, the MSTA’s communications director, said his organization started fielding questions from its members several weeks ago, as teachers realized the language of the law — called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act — went beyond the scope they thought it would in regard to teacher-student communication.

Sponsored by Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, the law primarily deals with making sure that a Missouri school district that fires an employee for sexual misconduct is liable for similar activity if the person is hired at another school district in the state and engages in similar behavior.

The provision of the law in question, Section 162.069, mandates that school districts need to have a written policy in place by Jan. 1, 2012 that outlines teacher-student communication and employee-student communication. It also stipulates that the policy must include what oral and nonverbal personal communication is appropriate and the proper use of social media.

Click here to read the entire article.

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