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Teacher-Student Online Communications Restricted in Missouri

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Missouri State Capitol by David Shane on Flickr
Missouri State Capitol by David Shane on Flickr

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon recently signed into law the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which restricts online interaction between students and teachers.

The law is named for Amy Hestir, a former student in the Missouri public school system who was a minor when she was sexually assaulted by one of her teachers with whom she communicated with online. The legislation not only limits such Internet interactions but also mandates that school districts be proactive in “develop[ing] a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites.”

School districts must have such policies in place by January 1, 2012.

The law also specifically limits a teacher’s online activities: “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.” Moreover, “[t]eachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

Detractors of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act worry that restricting social media interactions among teachers and students may actually harm students in the long run. Randy Turner, an eighth grade teacher at East Middle School in Joplin, Missouri points to the aftermath following tornadoes that swept through his town as an example of a time when the lines of communication between students and teachers were appropriately open.

“Because of this short-sighted bill, the next time students find themselves with problems they need to talk over with a trusted adult, there may be no one legally able to listen,” writes Turner in his blog, The Turner Report.

What do you think of this law? Should teacher-student online communications be limited or prohibited by law?

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August 2nd, 2011 at 9:56 am