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Teachers Awarded Injunction to Halt Facebook Law, Gov Asking For Repeal

The Missouri State Teachers Association was awarded an injunction to stop a new Missouri social networking law from taking effect Sunday. Meanwhile, Gov. Nixon is asking for repeals to the current law.

The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) just learned it was awarded an injunction to stop a new Missouri social networking law from taking effect Sunday.

"We just found out about two minutes ago. We're wrapping our heads around it, but this is a good resolution at this point," Todd Fuller, MSTA director of communications told Town and Country-Manchester Patch.

Spokesperson Cathy Kelly tells Patch it is too soon to issue a response on Friday's developments. Kelly said district staff is meeting Friday afternoon to review and discuss the new information.

As previously reported by , the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) is suing the state over a new Missouri social network law that prevents students and teachers from having conversations that cannot be accessed by school administrators and parents. This also means they cannot be friends on Facebook.

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Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, is sponsored by former Ladue school board member and Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, and designed to protect students.

A main thrust of the bill was the need to make the law more clear about a school district's responsibilities when dealing with teachers accused of sexual misconduct. MSTA opposes the section of the bill that teachers feel will inhibit their ability to communicate with students through social media sites such as Facebook and through text messaging, since it is now a common method of communication.

MSTA filed the lawsuit Aug. 19 and named Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster as the defendants.

The law was set to take effect Sunday, but a judge awarded the injunction that Turner said takes effect immediately and lasts 180 days. The injunction expires Feb. 20 and allows a trial before the statute is implemented.

"We're really happy because the judge realized that there is an issue with this particular section of the law," Fuller told Patch. "But the bigger issue is that we don't have to rush to create the language. At this point, we have time to review the issue."

"Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem granted MSTA's request for a preliminary injunction this morning. Judge Beetem found that based upon the evidence, teachers in Missouri use social media as one of their primary forms of communication," MSTA stated in a news release. "Judge Beetem stated that the law 'clearly prohibits communication between family members and their teacher parents using these types of sites. The Court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech,'" the news release said.

"This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn't resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input," said MSTA's legal counsel, Gail McCray, in an news release.

Following Friday's morning injunction, Governor Jay Nixon announced plans to ask state lawmakers to repeal some of the provisions in Senate Bill 54, which have been called confusing by Missouri teachers and other school staff. The governor plans to address the issue with the General Assembly in the special session that begins Sept. 6, Scott Holste, Nixon's press secretary, said in a news release.

“First and foremost, our top concern and priority is and always will be protecting children across Missouri and making sure students receive the quality education they need and deserve,” Nixon said in the news release. 

“In a digital world, we must recognize that social media can be an important tool for teaching and learning," he said in the release. "At the same time, we must be vigilant about threats posed to students through the Internet and other means. Because of confusion and concern among educators, students and families over this specific provision of Senate Bill 54, I will ask the General Assembly to repeal that particular section, while preserving other vital protections included in the bill. In addition, I will be asking for input on this issue from teachers, parents and other stakeholders.” 

According to the release, Nixon will specifically ask for repeal of the sections which require school districts to adopt a plan to address student-teacher electronic communications by Jan. 1.

Cunningham tells Patch she welcomes the opportunity to clarify the law and remove any ambiguity. She said her office is working with "educational stakeholders and arrived at compromise language to address this specific issue." The groups she cited include:  Missouri National Education Association, Missouri Association Federation of Teachers, Missouri School Board Association, and the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

"I'm pleased to work through the policies that the Missouri School Board had in place. Many of our Missouri school districts already had addressed this issue, and they know how to effectively do it," said Cunningham. "The judge has given us 180 days; I don't need that. We have compromise language and are ready to resolve this."

Cunningham said she felt sorry for dues-paying MSTA members because they were paying for matters, such as this, to be handled, but now "their money was being used to sabotage something their organization initially helped to craft and endorse."

"There's a hard way to do this, and an easy way," Cunningham said. "MSTA took the hard and very expensive way.

Cunningham's Chief of Staff Kit Crancer reiterated to Patch that the teacher groups were on board with this legislation when it was being proposed and passed, that the main purpose of the bill was to protect children and that the social media component is a small aspect of that.

The Missouri National Education Association issued the following statement in an email Friday, "We are pleased that Governor Nixon and the court agree with our members that this portion of the new law needs to be fixed. Missouri NEA will continue to work with legislators and the other education organizations to find a long-term solution that goes well beyond the 180 day time frame outlined in this morning's court decision. The problematic language in SB54 needs to be addressed  by the General Assembly -- and not by the courts -- because that allows educators, school districts and the students we serve to be a part of the solution."

Nanci Gonder, press secretary for Attorney General Chris Koster's  Office, tells Patch that Koster does not have a comment Friday about the injunction.

"Local Editors Gregg Palermo and Julie Patton contributed to this report.

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