Faithful readers of Kiwi Commons may recall an article from this August describing how teachers in Missouri were fighting a state law that would restrict online interaction between themselves and their students.
Chalk one up for teachers and free speech because the Missouri law has officially been repealed. The controversial law, enacted earlier this year, banned teachers from using websites that allow ‘exclusive access’ to students or former students under the age of 18.
According to David A. Lieb of AP, “The law generated an unexpected backlash, with teachers raising concerns they would be barred from using popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter that allow private messages.”
State legislators who voted overwhelmingly to pass the law this spring in an attempt to crack down on child abuse voted with equal enthusiasm to repeal it this fall. Nevertheless, the most recent bill sent to the governor requires local school districts to develop their own web safety policies by March 1.
Many teachers are relieved. The law, in their view, would have had unintended and very negative consequences. “For example, one teacher feared the law could have prevented her class from communicating with students in Australia through a closed website. Others raised concerns about the law’s effect on editing software for school yearbooks or on virtual classrooms, in which students communicate with direct messages,” writes the AP’s David A. Lieb.
The Missouri State Teachers Association must be pleased. Their original reaction to the law earlier this year was decidedly unfavorable, “The act is so vague and over-broad that (teachers) cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted and what is prohibited and thereby ‘chills’ the exercise of first amendment rights of speech, association, religion, collective bargaining and other constitutional rights.”
In a statement, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said the new law ‘is not without flaws’ and added that school districts may have trouble coming up with policies to stop inappropriate contact between teachers and students without infringing on a teacher’s right to free speech.
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