Nixon adds social media communication by teachers to special session agenda

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday announced that he will ask the General Assembly to repeal specific provisions concerning teacher-student communications that were included in Senate Bill 54, which was passed unanimously by both the House of Representatives and the Senate earlier this year.

Nixon’s announcement was issued shortly after a Cole County judge issued an order barring enforcement of the new law.

The governor will ask the General Assembly to repeal these specific provisions during the special session that begins Sept. 6. In addition, Gov. Nixon will seek input from various stakeholders, including parents and classroom teachers, according to a news release.

“First and foremost, our top concern and priority is and always will be protecting children across Missouri, and making sure students receive the quality education they need and deserve,” Nixon stated in the release. “In a digital world, we must recognize that social media can be an important tool for teaching and learning. At the same time, we must be vigilant about threats posed to students through the Internet and other means.

“Because of confusion and concern among educators, students and families over this specific provision of Senate Bill 54,” Nixon added, “I will ask the General Assembly to repeal that particular section, while preserving other vital protections included in the bill. In addition, I will be asking for input on this issue from teachers, parents and other stakeholders.”

Specifically, Nixon will ask the General Assembly to repeal statute 162.069, sections 1 through 4, which require school districts to adopt by Jan. 1, 2012, a policy on student-teacher communications and which specifically addresses electronic communications between school employees and students, the release stated. Under the state constitution, the governor can add an item to the call for a special session by issuing a proclamation once the session has convened.

Senate Bill 54, known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, includes a number of additional provisions that protect students from sexual misconduct and will not be included in this addition to the special session call. Those provisions include:

• Requiring disclosure of substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct by a former employee of a school to a public school that inquires about potentially hiring the employee;

• Requiring that reports of sexual misconduct by a teacher or employee be forwarded to the Department of Social Services within 24 hours for an investigation;

• Requiring annual background checks of teachers

• Requiring immediate suspension of school employees upon substantiation of sexual misconduct;

• Banning registered sex offenders from running for and serving on school boards;

• Requiring school districts to include training on the signs of sexual abuse in employee training;

• Establishing that crimes relating to sexual misconduct are a basis for discipline and the revocation of teachers’ licenses; and

• Creating a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children (“Erin’s Law”).

Senate Bill 54 passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate during the regular legislative session. Numerous groups testified in support of the bill, including the Missouri National Education Association, the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Missouri School Boards Association, the School Administrators Coalition, Missouri Eagle Forum, Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City and the Partnership for Children.

“Although this legislation included a number of vital provisions, it’s clear this one particular section is causing substantial confusion and concern among teachers, students and families,” Nixon stated. “For that reason, it’s important that we repeal this specific language during the upcoming special session, while we continue to work together to ensure the safety and protection of Missouri’s children.”

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, sponsored SB 54. In a statement Friday, Cunningham described her bill as “vital to protecting school students from sexual predators in our public school classrooms.”

“Unfortunately, while constitutional, a small section of the bill relating to communications policies between students and educators or other school personnel has led to confusion in how it is to be implemented,” Cunningham stated. “We welcome the opportunity to clarify and remove any ambiguity in the law during September’s special session. My office has been working with education stakeholders and teachers’ groups across the state for some time and I am prepared to work with my colleagues to introduce and pass compromise language both protecting our students online, while enabling our teachers to continue to use technology as a teaching tool.

“Studies show that Missouri ranked 11th nationally for educators losing their license for sexual misconduct,” she added. “The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act will help prevent the sexual abuse of children by ending the practice of teachers with a history of sexual misconduct from moving from school district to district, without their prior record following them. I am confident we will build on this success that was endorsed by all education and teachers’ groups and passed unanimously in both the House and Senate to develop strong, but reasonable strategies to protect our students from online abuses.”