Sep 122011
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Legislation repealing most of a controversial new law limiting teacher-student conversations through social networking sites such as Facebook cleared another hurdle Monday, receiving initial approval from the Missouri Senate.

The state Senate needs to approve the bill in one more vote before it moves to the House.
The vote came after Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem last month blocked the law from taking effect because of concerns that it infringes on free-speech rights.

The original law, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jane Cunningham, included provisions prohibiting teachers from having private online conversations with students. It said teachers may not “establish, maintain, or use a non-work-related Internet site” that allows the posting of information that is available only to the teacher and a student, which some interpreted as prohibiting teachers from using sites that allow private messages, like Facebook.

Opponents of the law said it could cut off even the most innocent online exchanges, such as questions about homework assignments, and worried that it could bar teachers from communicating with their own children online.

Cunningham’s new bill repeals the law’s most controversial provision and replaces it with a mandate that school districts develop their own social media policy by March 1, 2012. Those policies must include “the use of electronic media and other mechanisms to prevent improper communications between staff members and students.”

Most school districts already have such a policy in place, Cunningham said.

During debate Monday, no one spoke in opposition to the bill.

Despite widespread support in the Legislature — and from groups that have previously opposed the online communications provisions, such as the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Missouri School Boards Association and the Missouri National Education Association — one lingering question remains: Is the bill constitutional?

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