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Nixon bans Teacher-Student Friendships on Social Networking Sites

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has signed a bill prohibiting most teacher-student communication on social networking sites like Facebook.

July 27, 2011|Joanna Small and Joel Girdner | Reporter and Photographer
  • Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has signed a bill prohibiting most teacher-student communication on Facebook.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has signed a bill prohibiting most teacher-student communication on Facebook.

NIXA, Mo. —   A new Missouri law is forbidding friendship between teachers and students, at least on Facebook.

  It's part of a bill Governor Jay Nixon just signed designed to more clearly define teacher-student boundaries.
  Senate Bill 54 is not specific to Facebook but rather any kind of social networking that is exclusive and allows for private communcation.

  The problem lies in the details, or rather the lack of details.

  On one of the hottest days of the year a little friendly exchange is about the only thing that helps pass yet another grueling eight hour day on the Nixa High School football field.

  "I'll see them more than I'll see my own kids and they'll see me more than their own parent."

  So Band Director Craig Finger is friendly, but he's not a friend.

  "I mean if you ask any one of these kids it's very clear we're not friends," he tells us; not on the field, not on Facebook.

  "We don't friend any students," says Finger.  "If you haven't graduated we're not friends.  I think the only people I've friended under 18 are my niece and nephew."

  So Finger will have no problem complying with the new Missouri law forbidding most online communication between teachers and students; neither will the Nixa School District, provided there's some clarification.

  "This bill does leave a few gray areas," explains Zac Rantz, district spokesperson.

  Like whose students?  Your students?

  "It says current and former students, that's what the bill reads.  Does that mean students you've had in the classroom, the school district?  What if you've changed school districts?" Rantz continues.

  And what if you use sites like Facebook to disseminate valuable information?  Nixa does.

  So did Joplin.  Joplin middle school teacher Randy Turner blogs the law is misguided, crediting Facebook friendships between teachers and students with helping the district locate kids after the devastating tornado there.

  Not all teacher-student contact on Facebook is prohibited by this law, just direct contact.  For example, a teacher cannot be friends with a student on a private Facebook profile where you can pick and choose friends and send private messages, but teachers can set up a fan page.  It's open to the public, and anyone can like it.  
  That's exactly what the Nixa band has done.

  "I think we have 800 people following us on Facebook," Finger says.

  None of them are friends.

  "I'm more formal with my students."

  It ensures the only lines crossed are the ones on the football field.

  The band also has a Twitter account, website, and email newsletter.

  Governor Nixon signed the law last week.  On its heels, a Herman missouri man- former band director with the Gasconade School District- is accused of sending sexually explicit text messages to a 16-year-old girl.

  The bill called  the "Amy Hestir Student Protection Act" doesn't ax all phone calls and texts between teachers and students; it just requires they are kept appropriate.

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