Teacher group seeks deal on social networking law

By CHRIS BLANK

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A teachers union and the sponsor of Missouri legislation that restricts how teachers can use social networking websites said Tuesday that they are working on possible changes to the soon-to-be-effective law.

School districts will be required to establish policies by January that outline “appropriate use of electronic media such as text messaging and Internet sites for both instructional and personal purposes.” Teachers will be barred from having “exclusive access” online with current students or former students who are minors. That means communication through Facebook or other sites must be done in public.

The social networking restrictions are part of a broader measure that takes effect Sunday. Many teachers have complained that the restrictions will hurt their ability to keep in touch with students for classroom purposes, personal problems or even emergencies.

The Missouri National Education Association and a staff member for the state senator who sponsored the legislation said Tuesday that they are working on possible changes that would preserve the intent of the legislation and that they hoped there could be discussion during a special legislative session. Missouri lawmakers start meeting Sept. 6 for a special session that was to focus largely on economic development and tax credit programs.

Otto Fajan, the legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association, said possible changes could include making clear that school districts are responsible for developing policies governing electronic communication while allowing direction from the state. He said there more discussion was planned among people involved in education issues.

The possible changes would be intended to put “the focus where it belongs, saying, ‘It is your responsibility, school board, to have a well-targeted appropriate use policy and keep it up-to-date,”’ Fajan said.

Even if an agreement is reached, it is unclear whether the Legislature would consider them this fall or be forced to wait until the regular legislative session in January. When a governor calls a special session, the chief executive sets the agenda for what is discussed. Gov. Jay Nixon did not include the education issue in his special session call.

A spokesman for Nixon said Tuesday the special session must be efficient and that is why the governor selected the issues that he did.

The overall legislation won broad support in the Legislature this year and was supported by several education groups. However, restrictions on the use of social networking and communication between teachers and students have prompted increasing attention and concern.

Last week, the Missouri State Teachers Association filed a lawsuit, seeking an injunction to block enforcement of the new restrictions while arguing that they violated constitutional rights of teachers.

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