Lawmakers vote to repeal Facebook limits on teachers

Sep 24 2011 - 7:35am

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri lawmakers passed and sent to the governor Friday a bill designed to refriend Facebook and other electronic media for thousands of Missouri's teachers and students.

Not everyone, however, has decided to "like" it -- including Gov. Jay Nixon, who wants to hear what teachers and school boards think.

The Missouri House overwhelmingly passed a repeal of an earlier law barring most private electronic contact between teachers and students, including exchanges on social media websites such as Facebook.

But the new bill does more than just repeal the so-called Facebook law. It also requires local school districts to adopt their own policies by next March, "to prevent improper communications between staff members and students."

Opponents said that part of the bill would simply allow dozens of Missouri school districts to illegally block electronic interactions between teachers and students.

"We are going to ask the governor to veto the legislation," said Gary Brunk, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri. "It could be a nightmare ... these local districts could be all over the place, including (enacting) some things we really don't like at all."

But supporters of the repeal said the bill allows districts to tailor policies that best fit the needs of students, teachers, and parents.

"We don't tell local school districts how to do it at all," said state Rep. Chris Kelly, a Columbia Democrat, adding the district-by-district approach would help administrators quickly learn the best ways to keep an eye on electronic communications.

Missouri lawmakers -- worried about potentially predatory web discussions -- approved the original Facebook law last spring as part of a broader measure addressing inappropriate behavior between teachers and students.

That measure prohibited private electronic contact between teachers and students on social media sites, which sponsor state Sen. Jane Cunningham, a St. Louis County Republican, called "a pathway to sexual misconduct."

But the new law brought complaints from hundreds of teachers and some students. A lawsuit was filed and a judge blocked the law this summer, leading to the repeal debate in the September special legislative session.

Nixon would not indicate Friday whether he will sign the repeal bill. Some lawmakers worry the measure is unconstitutional because it goes beyond the governor's original request for lawmakers to use the special session to simply repeal the Facebook law.

"We need to interact with some local school boards and some individual teachers to see what their thoughts are," Nixon told reporters at a news conference. "It appears that they've (lawmakers) gone in a broader focus than what my intent was when we brought folks to town."

(c)2011 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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