A new Missouri state law that bans teachers from privately contacting students via social media has become a lightning rod for opinion as schools and their stakeholders grapple with what’s appropriate and what’s not when communicating in the digital era.
Missouri lawmakers say that, in light of disturbing revelations from an Associated Press inquiry that revealed more than 80 teachers in the state were fired for inappropriate sexual conduct with their students, banning private contact with students via social networks such as Facebook is justified. And many parents agree.
But many others, including teachers, say you can’t stop predators by limiting students’ social media interaction—and it doesn’t make sense to punish everyone for the actions of a few.
In response to this story, eSchool News readers from Missouri and across the country provided their own two cents on this polarizing issue.
“As a parent, I appreciate teachers’ concerns for my child’s personal life; however, they are teachers, not a parent or legal guardian of my child, and as such [they] have no business dealing with my child’s personal life directly,” wrote one parent from Denver. “If my child … appears to have some distraction in class that I should know about, I expect that teacher contact me and not direct a response to my child. I expect teachers and the school administration to respect the boundaries of these different roles. There already are effective protocols in place to address emergencies. They do not include social media directly with the student.”
“Communicating through Facebook removes school district control and the monitoring that is obviously necessary,” wrote another concerned parent. “Communicating through Facebook allows for an inappropriate intimacy, even if it is simply the educator being able to read postings that have nothing to do with school business. It is the responsibility of the educator to establish the safe, appropriate mechanism and protocol for communicating with the students. The fact that students use Facebook on a regular basis is irrelevant. The students are quite capable of monitoring their regular eMail and class webpage outside Facebook if that is what is required at school. These days, homework assignments are posted on a class website. There really should not be a reason for communicating through Facebook. As a parent, I would never allow it.”
Arguing the other side was Paul Baker, a Springfield, Mo., educator, who wrote: “Why should all Missouri teachers lose the ability to communicate with their students [owing] to the inappropriate actions of a few? Why not ban the use of cell phones for all educators? It would … cut down on horseplay and unprofessional behavior. Bad bill, vague wording, we all lose.”
Others believe the new law will hurt relationships, not protect them.