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MO Governor Signs School "Facebook Law" Repeals

Governor Jay Nixon signs repeals to the Missouri school social networking law, but says even the revised version has flaws. The law no longer prohibits teachers and students from communicating through some social networking outlets.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 1, which repeals a portion a state school social networking law passed, Senate Bill 54, by the General Assembly this spring.

In August, Patch reported on the controversy and confusion surrounding Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. It is sponsored by former Ladue school board member and Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) and designed to protect students. 

The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) sued the state over ths social network portions of Senate Bill 54, claiming it was too vague. MSTA was awarded an injunction on Aug. 26, just two days before the new law was to take effect. Friday, that lawsuit and injunction are still in place.

At that time Nixon called for repeals to parts of SB 54 and Cunningham worked to revise and clarify the bill.

The revisions to the social media aspects of SB 54 took the form of  Senate Bill 1. SB 1 was passed by the Missouri House and Senate at the end of September and then made its way to the governor for approval.

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Friday, the bill, which repeals a section of the original bill and adds a section to address communications between school district employees and students, got that approval.

“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,” Nixon stated in a press release.

Senate Bill 1 modifies the components that must be included in each school district's policy and repeals the existing components. It requires each school district to put into effect and promote a policy directed at the use of electronic communication between staff members and students by March 1. 

Districts are expected to draft those policies in a way that will prevent "improper communications" between staff and students, Nixon's office stated in the release.

SB1 also repeals:

  • The prohibition on a teacher establishing, maintaining, or using a work-related internet site unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian or legal guardian.
  • The prohibition on a teacher establishing, maintaining, or using a nonwork-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.
  • The definitions of: exclusive access, former student, work-related internet site, and nonwork-related internet site.

Governor Nixon's office released an accompanying signing statement, and stated in a press releas, "although Senate Bill 1 eliminated particularly egregious provisions contained in Senate Bill 54, the new bill was not without flaws which could have been avoided with a more deliberative approach."

“Nonetheless…Senate Bill No. 1 is an improvement – primarily through subtraction – over…Senate Bill 54… Senate Bill No. 1 is not perfect, but the alternative of educators having to conform to the unreasonable restrictions of…Senate Bill No. 54 is a far worse result,” the signing statement said.

Cunningham thought the latest version of the law served to confirm things for school districts with social media policies already in place, and provided direction for those who would be formulating a policy by March 1.

"I think we particularly needed to clarify the language about electronic communication," Cunningham told Patch Friday.

"It's a step in the right direction, but at the same time, we need to be prepared for districts that go beyond the scope of this original bill. The district's that won't allow teachers to use Facebook or even have their own Facebook page that is locked down," said Todd Fuller, MSTA Director of Communications.

Fuller said at this point MSTA's lawsuit still stands and so does the injunction. He said MSTA will meet with its attorneys next week and determine what steps to take from there.

"The reason we just don't drop the suit is because we don't know what policy is going to be written (by school districts). This injunction still protects teachers as (a school district's) policy is written and put into place," Fuller tells Patch.

Fuller said although there has been a lot of controversy and confusion, the bill has brought attention to an issue that needed to be thoroughly investigated.

"We don't think we would have ever gotten to this point if we hadn't filed the suit in the first place," Fuller explained. "The best part about this suit and the issue itself is that it brought attention to social media for districts that had a blanket statement on it or hadn't thought much about it." 

*Local Editor Jean Whitney contributed to this report.

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