Missouri teachers are looking closely through their social media connections to comply with a law signed July 14 by Gov. Jay Nixon that prohibits the connection of students younger than 18 with school employees online.
Senate Bill 54, or the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, is quickly gaining the nickname "Facebook Law." Missouri is the first state to pass such legislation. The bill will go into effect Aug. 28.
New teachers in the Cape Girardeau School District were told immediately Thursday during orientation not to connect with students online.
"As far as a teacher goes, I've never been a proponent of that. I don't think teachers should have that kind of relationship with students," said assistant superintendent Sherry Copeland.
Copeland said the Cape Girardeau district will soon have an updated policy on electronic communication in place because of the law.
Copeland said although she realizes the law was put in place to protect students, as an administrator she also looks at the teacher's side of things. Online communication, she said, can put a teacher in jeopardy and more prone to accusations.
"I would not like for a teacher to have to undergo all the scrutiny, be placed on administrative leave and possibly have to be in court, and never having done anything wrong," she said. "The mark on their life would be huge. Even if they were cleared, trying to get a job elsewhere even would not be easy."
Paul Fliege, a band teacher at Jackson High School, said he thinks the law has good intentions to try to protect students and will protect teachers from accusations.
"If it protects students, then it's doing its job," Fliege said.
He said he sees social networks as good tools, but now that the law has passed the networks will have to be used in a different way, such as having a school profile that everyone can connect to. He was friends with some students on Facebook and communicated with them about practice times or school events.
When Fliege found out about the law Wednesday night, he went through his Facebook account and deleted his students. He told the students he saw the next day at marching band camp why he did it and asked them not to take it personally.
Mary Harriet Talbut is an instructor at Southeast Missouri State University in the Department of Middle and Secondary Education. She suggests to her students that will teach high school that they don't friend their students until after the students have graduated.
"That's not a rule I follow, but it's different with college students. They are adults," Talbut said.
First-time teachers, she said, won't know about all the situations that can come up. They will be under higher scrutiny, as well, she said.
"It's just better not to connect that way," Talbut said.
She said she thinks one thing schools could do to benefit students and teachers when it comes to communicating online would be for them to teach digital citizenship, like what is and what is not appropriate online.
Even though Talbut advises her students not to connect with their future students online, she is not thrilled about the law.
"I think this is a case of the legislators not understanding what goes on in the classroom, and what technology is impacting," she said, "so what they do is ban it rather than understand it and teach how to work with it."
301 N. Clark Ave, Cape Girardeau MO
614 E. Adams St., Jackson, MO