Missouri outlaws students and teachers being Facebook friends

Mashable has an interesting piece on a new Missouri law, which goes into effect on Aug. 28th, banning teachers and students from interacting with each other directly via Facebook or any other form of social networking:

KSPR reports that it’s only direct social media contact that’s prohibited; teachers are allowed to create Facebook Pages where all students have direct access to the teacher in a more public setting.

Inappropriate contact between students and teachers is at the root of the legislation. Senate Bill 54 is designed to protect children from sexual misconduct by teachers, compelling school districts to adopt written policies between teachers and students on electronic media, social networking and other forms of communication.

The piece raises questions about enforceability and about constitutionality, but doesn’t got into much depth about those issues.

The Atlantic also has an interesting post about the new law:

Some find the law misguided. Randy Turner [more from him below] blogged that the law was signed “in spite of the positive effect that teachers and students being Facebook friends had on Joplin Schools’ effort to locate students after the May 22 tornado.[and] in spite of considerable evidence that social networking has been a positive force in education, and little or no evidence to the contrary.”

But the law is not entirely restrictive. The “direct contact” part is key to the prohibition; ABC notes that, “for example, a teacher cannot be friends with a student on a private Facebook profile where you can pick and choose friends and send private messages, but teachers can set up a fan page.” Nonetheless, the message sent by this law may discourage teachers from using social netoworking to interact with students altogether.

I teach college, and have had many students who have sent me Facebook friend requests both during and after the time I taught them. (I never send current students friend requests, but do occasionally reach out to former students that I want to follow.) I have also had many students that I taught in middle and high school track me down on Facebook. But those cases are all different: all my Facebook friends who were or are students are also legal adults.

But I do have among my Facebook contacts a number of teachers who have pretty broad networks of students.

And, frankly, I really don’t think any of this is a problem. It all depends on how the technology is used — and most people I know use Facebook to craft a semi-public face. I have over 1900 Facebook friends — I’m certainly going to be guarded about the information I share. The vast majority of others are too.

But what about direct messages and chat, which allow more direct contact between teachers and students? Again, I think the opportunities for positive interaction there far outweigh the negatives.

What next? Will we ban email between students and teachers? Isn’t that what Facebook messages are?

In April in the Huffington Post, the aforementioned Missouri teacher Randy Turner foresaw an even worse domino effect:

It is only a matter of time before state legislatures begin passing laws that prevent public school teachers from living within a certain distance from the schools where they teach.

From there, it is only a short step toward not allowing us to attend sporting events or go to the movies since we would have unfettered access to impressionable schoolchildren.

When it comes to surefire bills that all legislators can support, all you have to do is target one of three types of people — sex offenders, drunk drivers, or classroom teachers.

He continues:

As I noted in my last blog, it also prevents teachers from communicating with students or former students through Facebook or other social networking sites. For teachers who have successfully used Facebook an educational tool, and I am one of those, this out of left field portion of the bill will create an obstacle — and not do one thing to make students safer. Sadly, those few teachers, who bring disgrace to the whole profession, have many, much easier, ways of reaching students than through social networking sites.