'Facebook Law' challenged by Missouri teachers union

The 'Facebook Law' infringes upon the rights of educators, a teachers union in Missouri says.

The so-called 'Facebook Law' halts Missouri teachers from communicating with their students on the Web. But critics say the bill infringes on the free speech rights of the teachers.

A teachers union in Missouri is suing to reverse a controversial new bill that would restrict the online communication between educators and students. According to the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act – set to go into effect on Sunday, Aug. 28 – violates teachers' constitutional rights to free speech and association.

"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," reads a section of the lawsuit obtained by Reuters Canada.

Signed by Missouri governor Jay Nixon on July 14, the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act bars private electronic communication with current students and also past students who are still minors. (Hence the "Facebook Law" designation.) The intent, says Jane Cunningham, a Missouri state senator, and a chief sponsor of the bill, is to bolster the "safety" of Missouri classrooms.

"This legislation is vital to protect our children from sexual predators in our schools — places meant as safe learning environments,” Cunningham said, according to Wired. "Aside from mandatory extensive background checks, my bill will make it possible for school officials to be aware of sexual misconduct exhibited by potential hires and their employees when making staffing decisions. This will serve as an invaluable tool for protecting our children."

But critics have railed against the so-called "Facebook Law," claiming that it ignores the current realities of the new media landscape.

"New media do provide new avenues for sexual predators and school bullies, and schools are right to be concerned," the Post editorial reads. "But the answer is not to impose wholesale restrictions on teachers’ communication with students. In a media universe where young people are often most engaged and motivated online, these laws only handicap learning and innovation."

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