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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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