It‘s nice to see some common sense and forward thinking counter the inane laws popping up that ban educators from using social media with students and in classroom settings. A Missouri judge has suspended part of the state’s new law banning teachers from any form of private messaging with students. In the press, the law came across as banning Facebook friendships, but the language of the law is much broader. Here is the most problematic paragraph:
“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 non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”
Judge Jon Beetem rightly attacks the law’s constitutionality on two grounds. First, a law can’t be so broad that it restricts a wide range of communication just to stop a small percentage of it that is problematic. Second, a law can’t be vague, because a vague law will lead people to err on the side of caution, which in effect restricts a larger percentage of free speech than it was intended to stop.
Missouri’s law has both of these problems, and that is my major concern with it as well. It’s absurd to ban all the potential for social media to transform classrooms into rich learning environments in an attempt to prohibit the small fraction of that communication that leads to improper behavior.
Apparently, Missouri’s State Senator Jane Cunningham, the author of the law, is working to rework the problematic portions. I don’t have much confidence, however, in someone who says this: “A lot of sexual relationships start with the most innocent text message: ‘How do I do this math problem?’ or ‘I’m going to be late for practice.’” Good grief.
To learn more, I highly recommend Rob Arcamona’s Mind/Shift article. It’s very well written and sums up the legal element of the story effectively.