Missouri judge blocks Facebook limits for teachers

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri judge has blocked a law from taking effect Sunday that would have prohibited teachers from using social networking sites such as Facebook to carry on private conversations with students.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem issued a preliminary injunction against the law Friday while declaring that it “would have a chilling effect” on free speech rights. The judge put the law on hold until Feb. 20, allowing time for a hearing on whether the law should be permanently blocked.

The new Missouri law would have barred teachers from using non-work-related websites that give “exclusive access” to current students or former students who are 18 or younger. That would have meant that communication through Facebook or other social networking sites would have to be done in public, rather than through private messages.

The Missouri State Teachers Association and several public school teachers had challenged the law. They said websites such as Facebook and Twitter had become a common part of modern interaction between teachers and students and argued that to restrict them would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The judge said the teachers’ lawsuit had a good likelihood of success. His order noted that social networking sites are used extensively by teachers and that the law would have restricted online communications even between family members in which teachers are parents.

“The breadth of the prohibition is staggering,” Beetem wrote.

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