Missouri law bans teachers from befriending students online

CARDWELL, MO (KAIT) – Teachers and students in Missouri will soon have to abide by a state law banning the relationship online.

According to Missouri Senate Bill 54, students and teachers cannot have "exclusive online contact" on social networking web-sites like Facebook and Twitter. The bill, also known as the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act", was passed and signed by Governor Jay Nixon last month. A large portion of the law is designed to protect students from sexual advances from educators.

"It defines some guidelines on what we can and can't do and it clearly states, and we'll get something from our lawyers on a policy from the Missouri Consultants for Education, we'll put that in place. Our board will accept that," said Kim Campbell, Superintendent of the Southland School District in Cardwell, Missouri.

Campbell said he believes the state law is appropriate in protecting students and teachers. In years past, the student/teacher relationship online has been a gray area when it comes to inappropriate contact. He also said the law would protect teachers from becoming too friendly with their students.

"It clearly defines what you can and cannot do. It has to be open to the public. You can't have something that's inclusive," said Campbell.

Click here to read the full text of Missouri Senate Bill 54.

Section 160.069 bans teachers in elementary, middle or high school from befriending students unless the account is accessible to the student's legal guardians and school administrators.

The Missouri State Teachers Association has told other news agencies that the legislation is difficult to determine what is appropriate and what isn't.

Campbell said he will attend a meeting with the Mickes Goldman O'Toole Law Firm Friday in Cape Girardeau to discuss the bill and recommend changes to the school's policy book. Campbell said the Southland Board of Education will likely sign off on the changes.

"We haven't had anything specific come up, but last year we just directed from an administrative point of view, to stay clear of student staff relations as far as the media, you know, Facebook. Even emailing, just keep it tied to where it was from our website as far as a school website," said Campbell. "You can still take care of things as far as in a school setting, you can have parents up if you need be, but if a student just comes after class with a question, you still have that openness there as far as a homework assignment or a concern or something like that."

Other parts of the bill will require school districts to report allegations of sexual misconduct to the state within 24 hours.

Campbell said it's important for students, teachers and parents to understand the law and make the necessary changes.

"The more you know and the more you can let your teachers know, the more you can let your patrons of the district know, the better, the more informed, the more communicated, the better," said Campbell. "I think it's going to keep our employees out of possible situations and ultimately it's what is best and safe for the students."

"In a professional way of thinking and if something comes up, we'll be able to head it off and hopefully prevent possible problems with student teacher relationships," said Campbell.

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