A state law in Missouri, which would have prevented teachers and students from communicating privately over the Internet on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter was temporarily blocked, but if the injunction is lifted, it could have national implications.

The law, also known as Senate Bill 54 or the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, aims to fight inappropriate contact between students and teachers, including protecting children from sexual misconduct by their educators and is named after a Missouri public school student who was repeatedly molested by a teacher several decades ago.

The use of social media as a teaching tool is growing in popularity around the country as teachers continue to seek out new ways to communicate and educate their students. It seems however that at least one person, Missouri state Senator Jane Cunningham, a St. Louis Republican and key sponsor of the aforementioned law is not all that enamored with social media use between students and teachers. Although for her part, she’s more concerned about the secret discussions that can go on online between teachers and underage students… “It (the law) doesn’t stop any avenue of communication whatsoever, it only prohibits hidden communication between educators and minors who have not graduated,”

For their part, the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) who contended the new law would violate free speech and other rights, disagreed with the senator. saying in their lawsuit among other things… “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.”

The judge who issued the injunction – Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem, seemed to agree… ““The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech.”

There also appears to be a bit of he said/she said going on as senator Cunningham said the teachers’ association supported the law and helped draft some of the language. However a spokesman for the MSTA disagreed, contended the MSTA did not review the final language regarding social media and that the use of social media was just one part of a much larger bill designed to discourage private relationships between teachers and students that have sometimes led to sexual abuse.

The injunction is set to expire on February 20, 2012 and from now until then all parties involved will work to come to a happy medium.

I wanted to dig a little deeper… I told you I’m naturally curious and love to “go behind the numbers” if you will and so I reached out to the MSTA and spoke with Aurora Meyer, Online Community Coordinator from the MSTA to get her thoughts on the judge’s ruling.

SO: Why is this issue of such importance to the MSTA?
AM: Our biggest concern was that the bill was so unclear as to define what a teacher could and could not do, that teachers started to ask questions that no one had answers to. When districts are telling their teachers to delete their Facebook pages and warning coaches to stop texting players to tell them a bus will be late, we knew wecouldn’t wait for a special session of the legislature.  Additionally, this particular issue took a national tone, and we started to hear from teachers not just in Missouri but from throughout the United States.

SO: What message do you think this injunction sends to teachers, students and anyone else who uses social media?
AM: To quote from the injunction: “Social networking is extensively used by educators. It is often the primary, if not sole manner, of communications.”

To quote from our press release: “This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn’t resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input.” – Gail McCray, MSTA’s legal counsel

SO: Do you think student/teacher interaction via social media should be monitored under any circumstances?
AM: Most school districts already have policies in place to deal with social networking sites and how teachers and students are using social media. Many teachers also have personal policies. We want to allow the districts to determine their own needs.

Ok, your thoughts…

What do you think of the use of social media in the classroom?

Is it ok to use it as a tool?

Should teachers be allowed to communicate with their students via social media as long as it’s for educational purposes?

Source: Reuters, Google Images, Should Teachers And Students Be Allowed To Communicate Via Social Media?, The Star Group