MSTA sues state over social networking bill

On behalf of its members, the Missouri State Teachers Association has requested the Cole County Circuit Court to determine the constitutionality of the social media portion of Senate Bill 54, known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act.

MSTA believes the bill — signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in July — infringes on educators’ first amendment rights of free speech, association and religion.

The group’s petition states the bill “makes it unlawful for teachers in elementary, middle or high schools to have non-work-related websites or any other social networking sites that allow exclusive access with current or former students.”

The legislation “makes it unlawful for school teachers to communicate with their children, relatives, church youth group members and even newspaper reporters who happen to be current or former students using Facebook-type web sites or by many of the other popular and increasingly indispensable computer and cell phone based technologies in wide-spread use in

society today.”

Senate Bill 54 “effectively prohibits Plaintiffs from interacting with students via Twitter, Facebook and potentially prohibits other communication sites such as BlackBoard, Virtual Classroom, Angel, and other sites commonly used by teachers for online classes and distance learning,” according to the petition, which goes on to call the act “so vague and overbroad that the Plaintiffs 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 by school teachers.”

The MSTA petition states teachers use non-work-related social networking sites “as an important avenue for contact with students, both during emergencies and for everyday educational issues, such as when a student has difficulty with a classroom assignment or identifying bullying.”

MSTA is asking the court to keep that section of law from being implemented until the constitutionality can be determined.

“Many of our members are concerned about the unintended consequences of this law, including their ability to monitor their own children’s online activities,” stated MSTA Legal Counsel Gail McCray. “It’s vague and more importantly, we believe it violates the constitutional rights of educators.”