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The Missouri “Facebook Law”: A conversation

Senate Bill 5, also known as The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, signed into law on July 14 in Missouri, goes into effect on August 28. Among lots of other provisions, the law stipulates that:

  • No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a work-related internet site unless such site is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian.
  • No teacher shall establish, maintain, or use a nonwork-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.

A Huffington Post piece on the law includes quotes from Dr. Charol Shakeshaft in support of the law. Dr. Shakeshaft is a professor and chairwoman of the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is THE leading expert on issues related to educator sexual misconduct, having researched and written extensively on that topic (just do a Google search for “Charol Shakeshaft”) and having served as an expert witness in dozens of cases.

Charol is also my colleague, mentor and one of my dearest friends.

Yesterday, she sent me an email with a link to the the Huffington Post piece and wrote:

I’d appreciate your thougts on this  (I know we probably disagree)…

To which I responded with:

Yeah, we mostly disagree.

Here are my rambling thoughts…

I think they’re throwing the baby out with the bath water and trying to herd cats all at once…

Why are we legislating against the medium and not the behavior(s)? Before computer-mediated communication was really possible, didn’t teachers use paper and pens/pencils to get private messages to students? Did we ever ban paper and pens/pencils? Lots of inappropriate behaviors occurred in band rooms and cars and… We don’t ban those. Aren’t there ways to draft sexual harassment policies to cover the behaviors that policymakers are concerned about without singling out social media” or the Internet or…? Shouldn’t we encourage educators to model good/positive digital citizenship instead?

Isn’t this also a slippery slope? Why are teachers being singled out? If they’re really concerned about this stuff, shouldn’t it apply to all public officials/state actors who work with kids?

How does this apply for teachers engaged in distance learning? Blackboard allows “exclusive access” to students… Even if an administrator and a legal guardian has access to the Bb site, there’s no way for the administrator or legal guardian to access private communications between a teacher and a student done through Bb.

What about this scenario?: a teacher is a big fan of, oh, I don’t know, let’s say surfing. She/he becomes a member of a site built for surfers by surfers. The site includes articles about surfing, discussion boards, etc. It’s built on a platform like Ning, which has many “social” features, including messaging of other members. If a student is also interested in surfing and becomes a member, does the teacher have to quit/leave the site?

Oh, and BTW, per COPPA and other laws, most social networking sites are limited to children over 13. So, that should take care of itself for kids younger than that.

To which she responded:

I agree with most everything you say. But, I do believe we make distinctions. For instance, schools do have rules about sending notes to students or calling them on private phones. Not that they should or shouldn’t, but one approach to this issue is that schools attempt to regulate behavior of teachers. For instance, don’t take your student out alone to a restaurant. That’s not the same thing as saying you can’t eat or go to restaurants.

My point is that there are lots of ways to do social media with students. For teachers to say that this completely keeps them from ever having anything to do with students on social media isn’t accurate.

And yes, I do believe that we need to target the behaviors. But one of the big behaviors is using social media to groom students. My response is that we need education. How about state bills that require everyone to understand what sexual misconduct is by teachers, how it happens, what to look out for? We could even do that through social media.

So, I asked Dr. Shakeshaft if we could continue the discussion here, in public, where others could chime in. She graciously agreed.

So, here we go…


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24 Responses to “The Missouri “Facebook Law”: A conversation”

  1. There are already laws in place that address inappropriate contact with children that apply to all, not just teachers. By singling out teachers my state (Missouri) is implying that teachers should be considered dangerous, more dangerous than any other group.

    This law has very little to do with protecting the children. If the state wanted to protect children from sexual predators they would remove all of them from their parents’ homes. After all, most children are molested by family members. Perhaps we should not allow family members to have private communications with underage children as well?

    Many of my students have very limited access to adult role models they can talk to. I have had students send “private” messages asking about homework help, what to do when they have to deal with their parents divorce, and even something as mundane as what color tie to wear to graduation.

    My students are humans, we (teachers) spend more time with them each day than their parents but we are expected to treat them like lab specimens. What message will this send to them? How can I explain to them that the state things I am a predator and I won’t be able to give help to them unless they are willing to go public with their problems? This law is harmful to my students…

    I apologize if my arguments are all over the place. I don’t like my state labeling me a predator.

    William Chamberlain

  2. Russ Goerend says:

    Here’s what jumped out at me:

    My point is that there are lots of ways to do social media with students. For teachers to say that this completely keeps them from ever having anything to do with students on social media isn’t accurate.

    Is that the goal?

    When I get my students on Edmodo (which has private messaging between teachers and students — though not students and students) it’s not to “do social media.” It’s so we can better communicate. I used it often last year to send private messages to students when they had late work. The messages were all a copy/pasted version of: “Your ___ was due today. Make sure you turn it in ASAP.” If I understand correctly, now I need to make that kind of message public, so the whole class knows which students have late work? Or, at the end of the day when I look through writer’s notebooks, I should…? Call home to each parent? But I don’t want to be calling home for only negative reasons, so now I’ll be on the phone with each parents for ~5 minutes. So, instead of five minutes total after school, I’ve turned that into 30 minutes to an hours worth of work, just let a student know their assignment was late?

    How about on their blogs? When a student writes a post, in the comments there’s the option to make my comment private to that student. So, now, I can leave my constructive feedback in public where everyone can see it or…? Have a conversation the next day during class? I’m not really sure what my options are. The whole point of leaving feedback on their blog posts is so they can work with that feedback outside of class and come to class ready to improve instead of spending class time giving the feedback.

    I can see how there’s possibly some logic behind this kind of thinking if the goal is to “do social media with students.” That’s not the goal, though, which is why I find the law so perplexing.

  3. Chris Willis says:

    Jon I agree with you. The behavior is not new. The medium is different, faster, more direct, and more emotionally remote than other mediums but that shouldn’t cause it to be outlawed. I also agree that teacher education is key. There are laws in a host of states that lead to automatic loss of teacher license or other penalties like the MO law. Yet, I know of no ethics courses for pre-service teachers. We require them for lawyers but not teachers. I took a seminar on how to operate AV equipment during my teacher prep program but no one ever discussed the limits of appropriate student relationships. I have had a number of colleagues and students that would have benefited from that type of education. Oh and by the way, none of those situations involved the Internet.

  4. Alexandra Miletta says:

    This seems like just one more example of rushing to create new legislation with seemingly good intentions and not thinking through the unintended consequences. “Teacher” and “student” are also ill-defined so it’s hard to know if this applies to higher education settings as well, where Blackboard and online learning would certainly be a big issue. Furthermore, teachers depend on countless private communication with students in person and in writing to provide feedback, counsel and advice, and to resolve problems and conflicts. This legislation taints an important teaching method that is at the core of attentiveness to students’ moral and intellectual well-being.

  5. I don’t think teachers should be singled out.

    My mom taught high school back in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. She was that tough but fair teacher I aspired to be. One day she, a natural hugger, told me that she could no longer hug anyone. I never asked her what was said to her, but I felt her sadness. My mother remains an example of decorum. I cannot imagine her ever doing anything untoward.

    Last October, when she was in rehab, a former student recognized her. That moment in the dining room turned into Old Home week.

    You mean to tell me that contact with students is never, ever, ever allowed? I was never worried when I’d show up for a make up exam after school for Russian class. Was only me and the teacher. He was an odd man, but I never would have thought, “sexual predator.”

    We live in a sad society where everyone is worried about everyone else. If a student is invited to restaurant to meet alone with a teacher, that is a red flag. But, frankly, I think we need ways to protect the adult from being falsely accused than this type of restriction. I am more concerned about anonymous people approaching kids who do not know that this could be an adult pretending to be a kid. That scenario is far more likely some teacher not using good judgment.

    Are we legislating judgment and common sense now? That reminds me of what Jesse Ventura said about helmet laws, “You cannot legislate against stupidity.” If a teacher lacks judgment perhaps he or she should not be in the profession. For their own sake. But to put laws in place? I have misgivings about that.

  6. When I was in high school ,we had a teacher date and then marry a student. Shockingly, this happened even though social media wasn’t invented. When I was in third grade, we all had to stay in from recess because one student was talking. This law follows the same logic. Except it would have banned all talking.
    Also,we have a system that auto-texts/emails students school info like scholarship due dates, practices, rehearsals etc..would we have to shut that down?
    Chris and Russ~well said!
    We must teach, not ban.

  7. Mark Murray says:

    What about teachers who may be involved in church, scouting or even school clubs? So the high school’s Spanish club has a Facebook page, but the club sponsor can’t be a part of it?

  8. Ira Socol says:

    I’m thinking that without private communication between myself and certain teachers, I would never have gotten past Eighth Grade. That includes all those “dangerous” things. Conversations in a park, conversations if we met on the street, yes, even lunches “alone.” They didn’t write notes to me because I might not have been able to read them… but if not for that, I’m sure they would have, These conversations were often about “non-school” issues, which, obviously, dominate the lives of most adolescents.

    And I’m thinking about my time coaching in high school. I had soccer players showing up at my door at all hours of the night. I had them sleeping on my living room floor. Was I supposed to discuss one kid’s mother being terminally ill in an open forum? Or another kid’s parent’s drug addiction? Should I have invited the principal or superintendent in while I discussed problems kids were having with their other teachers?

    We had these conversations in person, by phone, over the primitive email systems of the 1990s and early 2000s. And they were important. They were essential. Nothing “inappropriate” ever went on.

    We tend, as humans, to make rules when we decide we don’t have basic common sense. I always suspect that the more rules you have, the poorer the leadership you have. Societies which are functional can get by with a certain level of trust. Societies which are dysfunctional try to prescribe and proscribe every bit of human behavior.

    I agree that teacher education must include these tools at pre-service and in-service levels. I agree that we need history, philosophy, and ethics in our teacher education programs. I agree that when we introduce new technologies or strategies we must be responsible enough to learn how to use those tools responsibly.

    But I don’t like blanket prohibitions. That replaces humanity with management.

  9. Said it much better than I could, Ira.

    Brought to mind my recent presumed guilty assertions brought against me.

    Management and really bad management at that.

    It’s sad that we’ve become such a contentious society. If you report me, then I will report you. And so on.

    Who, then, really looks out for the kids. Seems to me it’s more about who or what looks good rather than what is good. Surface stuff replaces deeper caring when compassion is replaced by punishment.

  10. This whole law passage is disturbing on so many levels. It reminds me some of abstinence education to prevent teen pregnancy. The scenario goes like this:
    Parents: “Thou shalt not teach my child about sex.”
    School: Hmmm….okay. But if we don’t then you will, right?
    Parents: “I will not teach my child about sex either, but you shall not, got it?”

    So….as Debbie noted: who then is really looking out for the kids? Where are they supposed to LEARN about being good digital citizens? Parents are not/won’t teaching them, school can’t teach them…
    A healthy dose of education all around is in order imho. I’ll admit I am not a fan of Facebook, but dismissing technology (read that ‘social media’) as BAD without understanding it fully is just plain wrong.

  11. An Officer and a Teacher says:

    There used to be a time when the school system and legislation looked out for their teachers. Recently it seems everyone is chomping at the bit to see us do wrong. What happened to the days of supporting your teachers? I find the problem not with the legislation, but the media and parents. The media loves it when teachers mess up, as the do with service members, because that gets them great ratings. People do not sit at home and watch the news to her about a teacher changing children’s life and helping them go to college or a Marine that earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart for their actions in Iraq. They sit at home to hear about the sexual assaulting teacher and the service member that mistreated a POW.
    Parents no longer take responsibility for their children’s actions. Anytime a kid does something wrong they blame it on the school system. Disciplinary issues originate in the home not the school. We need to stop pointing fingers at teachers that do carry on as professionals and start looking at the real reasons for our problems.

  12. As a woman who underwent two DCFS investigations in the space of six weeks, I really take exception to that accusation about parents.

    Our older daughter is severely disabled and cannot speak. I was alleged to have sexually abused her. It’s been over a year, but it still angers me to think how precarious things could have been. I am guessing that could have been a jailable offense, could it not? It was alleged I had scratched her labia. turned out to be an underwear crease

    I also had the SVU cops show up at my door at 10:30 at night to investigate alleged medical neglect. Our daughter had had a seizure at school that lasted under three minutes. The nurse overreacted and called an ambulance. Long and short is that I managed to piss off the ER doctor who coerced a nurse to call it in and distorted a number of facts.

    I recommend that if you’re going to aim your index finger that you make sure it’s not loaded. I personally was not blaming any teacher, and, in fact, I am probably overall one of the best allies a teacher could hope for. Too bad I do not experience that reciprocity in real life. Given the challenges I face,that would be welcoming.

  13. Kyle Pace says:

    Hey Jon thanks for this post. I was anxious to read your perspective when you shared this out. Being an educator in Missouri, and being in a position where I can educate other Missouri educators, I’m just hoping I get to do just that even more now that SB 54 has been passed. I hope our required district policy isn’t just drafted and everything go on lockdown. That’s easy and I hope it’s the road not taken. It’s sad that we have to legislate common sense. I’m with you, Ira, and others in that we have to be having this conversation with not only current teachers but pre-service teachers as well. How long now have so many of us been calling for this? How many positive examples of social media/networking in education have we seen in just the last couple of years? Countless in my opinion. Russ’ comment about Edmodo is a perfect example. Our aim is to not teach social networking. But the positives of what it’s doing/can do for our students is rarely given credit. That takes more time. Time we need to be spending to serve our students better. To understand that here’s what it CAN do for our students and let’s get a plan in place to make sure our teachers know this.
    Yet we always seem to have these “after the fact” messes to clean up. However, the legislation has been passed. I don’t know enough about law to know if it can be changed at this point. I refer back to Jon’s take on it all. :) I’m kind of having the “what’s done is done” feeling about it all now. I just am hoping for the best that this will start some important conversations which lead to important time educating current and future teachers.

  14. Most schools require teachers to go through training to spot inappropriate and grooming behaviors. What about the threat of fax machines? Do you realize anyone at anytime could send an inappropriate image to a school fax machine where children could see it. When will the geniuses in the Missouri legislature act to reign in this threat?

  15. Pam says:

    Jon- I agree with Carol on this point- we need to make it absolutely an essential that educators understand what constitutes “stepping over the line” in terms of sexually inappropriate language, contact, or sharing of sexually inappropriate content with students in their care- regardless of age. This is about the legal, moral, and ethical behaviors of professionals- not the tools. In fact, I suspect SM tools are one of the reasons that these cases are coming to light more often- it’s much easier to hide a trail of such behavior w/o the kind of documentation that exists within social media.

    I do not agree with banning social media, paper-pencil, land-line or cell phone, fax, or face-to-face private contact between teachers and students. We have many more stories of how teachers’ positive, personalized relationships have saved a child’s learning life than of those that have resulted in horrific abuse of relationships. We know that teachers today use these tools to communicate on field trips, about homework, athletic events, etc. The Florida Virtual School staff reported at a conference this past year that the one thing students wanted next was the capability to text with their teachers about assignments.

    When ugly interactions occur, it gives us all pause to consider what we could have done differently to prevent such interactions. However, we can’t legislate those interactions from occurring by banning all the tools that lead adults to engage in tragically, inappropriate ways. We knew from research done before virtual social media even existed that those interactions occurred more often in the “good old days” than any of us would see as appropriate. Kids were “groomed” but in different ways.

    Young people and their families also need to be educated about abuse topics beyond the prurient media stories that occur with some clockwork to build info-entertainment market share. This represents the need for another one of those hidden, non-tested laundry list curricular areas for which America’s educators have become responsible over the years. Unfortunately, it’s a very important topic for us all to consider and act upon.

  16. A disgusted teacher says:

    This is insanity. Most districts have regulations about interacting with students via SM. However the state has no right to dictate if I have a twitter/facebook/G+ etc… This is a punishment to the whole profession for a few bad apples. BTW – email is a social network, so that means a teacher couldn’t have an email account or a myfamily .com account. This is absurd and and is yet another law that will push good teachers away from the field lowering the quality of education.

    Disgusted Teacher

  17. Steve Ransom says:

    Educate. Don’t ban. You can’t legislate against every human (inter)action that could have negative ramifications. I’m just as saddened when a neighbor says that my children can’t play on their outdoor play set for fear of litigation if someone was to get hurt. This is the kind of society we create when fear of misconduct and litigation drives policy. Let’s all strive for being better, more ethical and more informed and educated people. When students can no longer confide in their teachers, whatever the medium, we will have successfully dehumanized the profession.

  18. Greg Cruey says:

    I recently attended the WV Statewide Technology Conference. Keynote Speaker: Facebook VP of Global Public Policy Marne Levine. I asked her: “Should teacher friend students on Facebook?’ Answer: yes. I also attended a workshop on Ruby Payne workshop on understanding poverty (I teach in a distressed county in Appalachia). Facebook seems like a powerful tool for understanding my students. And when people tell me that I shoudln’t do that, their reasons usually come down to “you might end up sleeping with them.” Oh give me a break! That answer is insulting…

  19. Greg Cruey says:

    OK, so I just proved that I don’t proofread well. Wish I could edit my comment…

  20. [...] Scott’s a highly-respected colleague and a dear friend. But, while I’m on a roll in airing professional disagreements with dear colleagues/friends, I thought I’d offer a critique of the [...]

  21. Shennen Dean says:

    Well, I’m now in Arizona where the district I am working for is trying to decide if we should allow social networking site access to teachers. Currently, teachers are allowed to receive campus server based emails or external emails from students, but they cannot access Gmail/Yahoo, etc. to send email and they cannot use the school’s email system to send email to students unless the filter is lifted which may be requested. As I explained to the HR director, it is probably better that we are able to use the technology available to us to not only increase efficiency and save money, but also as a recording system for teachers who may be doing illegal activities. A smart criminal wouldn’t send explicit images of her genitalia to a student. However, I was told a male teacher received oral sex from a student in the hallway in front of the security cameras at a school I worked at in Richmond. So, one way or another, criminals will always find a way to engage in their activities.

    What disappoints me greatly is the wrongheadedness of leaders like Dr. Shakeshaft who haven’t a shred of humanity in their souls to prevent them from judging everyone to be a villain. “How about state bills that require everyone to understand what sexual misconduct is by teachers, how it happens, what to look out for?” ARE YOU INSANE? How about we remove that part “is by teachers?” Let’s have state bills that require everyone to know everything about every potential misconduct by anyone. And I think we should start with the failure of some faculty members to actually care about their students and employees.

  22. LawyerMommy says:

    The most incredible issue here is that this bill was introduced and passed by adults who were probably educated in Missouri.

    Apparently, the focus should be on education, starting with American History and the Constitution.

    Economics would be next when you look at how many taxpayer dollars were spent passing this monstrosity and how many more taxpayer dollars will be spent in the courts getting rid if it.

    Amy Hestir Davis was abused 26 years ago, so basic Math skills must be lacking because Social Networking wasn’t around back then. What was around 26 years ago were her parents.

    Whatever happened to Parental Responsibility? In this particular instance, the abuser was a teacher, but the cold hard truth is that child abusers can be anyone.

    Let’s put focus, effort and taxpayer dollars where it’s needed, parenting classes, community awareness, and education. One of the problems with the education system today is that students are confused as to their rights as individuals.

    The more we understand about our personal rights, the less likely we are to allow someone to violate them.

  23. I think that what you said was actually very reasonable.

    However, what about this? what if you were to create
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  24. Shennen Dean says:

    Even now, especially now, with the growth of social mediums, I am most certain that limiting teacher communication with students is not the correct method for preventing sexual abuse in the classroom.

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