Missouri Senate Bill 54 Section 162.069

I just saw this reported not the local news.  Missouri has a new law signed this morning by the governor, which impacts student/teacher interaction online.

SECTION 162.069 – By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.

Missouri Senate Bill 54

In other words, no individual communication–Facebook, Google+, IM, texting, or otherwise with current students, or students not yet graduated.  This is a good thing, as teachers don’t always consider the impact of social networking on their occupation.  In general, on your personal social network accounts, don’t talk about your job, students, or parents, unless you are making a statement such as, “So proud of my students and the job they did today.”  Avoid negative statements completely.  Think your Facebook account is visible to only a small number of people?  All it takes is a small screen capture by any follower, and your status updates are accessible to the world.  Remember the case of June Talvitie-Siplem who was fired for her statements about parents and students last summer.  And, yes, some social networking sites can differentiate between the levels of relationships you have with people and share news accordingly, but do you really trust that either you are going to click all the correct “relationship” options with each “friend” or that the site is going to get it right, or keep its terms of use the same?  Play it safe.

I’ve long advocated for two things:

1) Teachers should not accept any “student” as a Facebook friend.  This might (1) be different at the college level, but in K-12, no student should have access to your Facebook (or enter other social networking service) unless they’ve graduated.  Facebook groups are probably not a great idea in K-12, because control of the content is out of your hands.

2) Teachers should use services, such as websites and Twitter, to act as a way to disseminate important information.  Twitter is also fantastic because it can send text messages to subscribing students and parents (which is how they communicate) Don’t communicate with students (or “follow” those students) via those services, however.

Your best best for communicating with students and parents electronically is school district provided e-mail, which of course, is open to district/administrative monitoring at any time.

(1) It’s probably best that any student at any institution, K-12 or otherwise, not be a friend on Facebook or social networking site.

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