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'Facebook Law' Bans Teacher-Student Friends

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on August 02, 2011 12:08 PM

In an attempt to create boundaries and protect students from sexual abuse, a new Missouri Facebook law places strict limitations on teacher-student friendships on social networking sites, calling into question the future of social media in the classroom.

The new rules, which are part of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, require all school districts in the state to adopt a written policy by January 1, 2012, listing appropriate types of oral and nonverbal personal communication, including electronic media.

Also known as Senate Bill 54, Missouri's Facebook law explicitly states the following:

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. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.

While some are claiming this language completely bans teacher-student online communications, it actually only bans private communications, especially when they occur on private accounts.

Technically, public Facebook accounts designed for the purpose of enriching the classroom environment are acceptable so long as school officials have access, even to private messages that may be sent to the teacher's account.

While this does leave some room for Facebook in the classroom, Missouri teachers are still concerned with the vagueness of the law.

A class Facebook page or website can be useful to share links, get assignments, and have discussions, but with almost every service having private messaging, usage may toe the line of the law.

This is going to make Missouri's Facebook law a tough one for teachers and administrators to figure out.

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