Even Missouri state Sen. Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) admits the bill she sponsored should probably be changed. So today the Missouri General Assembly will begin a special session in which they will consider repealing the provision of Senate Bill 54 that makes it illegal for teachers to friend students on Facebook.
The bill was supposed to become law in Missouri on August 28. However, a circuit court judge issued a 180-day injunction preventing the law from taking effect until the court has time to decide whether it violates state and federal free speech rights.
“The Court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech,” Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon E. Beetem wrote in his order, adding that breadth of the prohibition of speech was “staggering.”
Missouri’s General Assembly had already scheduled to meet in a special session beginning today when the Governor Jay Nixon received the injunction. Therefore, he has asked the General Assembly to add Senate Bill 54 to their agenda.
Many educators have objected to the provision of the new law that would require all public school districts to adopt policies forbidding private communication among teachers and students using social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Teachers frequently use social media as an instructional tool. Therefore, the Missouri State Teachers’ Association (MSTA) sued the State of Missouri, challenging the constitutionality of this section of the new law.
In his order, Judge Beetem wrote that the MSTA had a “substantial likelihood” of winning the case.
According to Senator Cunningham, the intent of the bill she sponsored was to prevent sexual abuse of children by teachers and other school employees. However, after educators objected to some of the wording in the law, Cunningham indicated willingness to be flexible.
“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,” she said.
Other provisions of Senate Bill 54 — also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act — will not change. Amy Hestir is has testified before Missouri lawmakers about a junior high school teacher she claims sexually abused her in the 1980s, although she was afraid to report the crime until well after the statute of limitations had passed.
The provision of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act that the General Assembly will address during the Special Session states: “No teacher shall establish, maintain or use a non-work-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”
Missouri’s State Constitution allows a governor to add items to a General Assembly Special Session by proclamation. Governor Jay Nixon has said he will ask for the repeal of sections 1-4 or Senate Bill 54.
“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,” he announced last month.
Remaining unchanged will be provisions of the Amy Hestir Child Protection Act extending the statute of limitations for sexually abusing children and requiring districts to report information about teachers who have committed this crime. In addition, districts will be required to report child sexual abuse allegations within 24 hours. Also, when teachers who have sexually abused children lose their jobs, district employees will be required to report this information to prospective employers calling for job references. Those reporting child sexual abuse receive civil immunity under the new law. The law extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse to 30 years after the victim reaches the age of 18. Mediation services will be available to the accused and the accuser. Another provision of the act is the establishment of a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse by Children charged with finding ways to prevent this crime.
Although the Missouri General Assembly’s 2011 session concluded last May, the governor had called them into a Special Session beginning today in order to consider legislation providing incentives for business in Missouri. Also on the agenda will be debate about moving Missouri’s presidential primary from February to March and legislation regarding control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
Special sessions can last up to a 60 days.
Over the past decade, the Missouri General Assembly has met in special session only five times.
UPDATE September 6, 2011 1:09 p.m. Missouri State Senators are debating procedural issues (i.e. “What happens during a special session?”) The House has adjourned until 10 a.m. tomorrow for a technical session.
UPDATE 5:31 p.m. About an hour ago, the Missouri State Teachers’ Association reported “our team at the state capitol that Senator Jane Cunningham has filed a bill regarding the concerns about Senate Bill 54. As soon as we can link to it, we will. We’ll continue to update you as we get more.”
UPDATE 6:58 p.m. On its Facebook page, the MSTA posted a link to SB 1 proposed by Jane Cunningham to modify SB 54, The Amy Hestir Child Protection Act. As of this evening, there is no text associated with the link. The MSTA rep says they were able to read it earlier, but it evidently has been taken offline. Commenters on the MSTA Facebook site write: “If it falls short of eliminating that section altogether, the modification hasn’t gone far enough.” and “It’s still governmental meddling and appears prejudicial to the teachers. And the fifth subsection is moot, most if all school districts have training on recognizing abuse etc.”
UPDATE 8:13 p.m. Senate Bill No. An Act to repeal section 162.069, RSMo, and in lieu thereof one new section relating to communications between school district employees and students http://www.senate.mo.gov/11info/pdf-bill/S1/intro/SB1.pdf
See what teachers are saying about it on the Missouri Teachers’ Association Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/missouriteachers
UPDATE 11:05 p.m. Missouri NEA Update “Sen. Cunningham filed SB 1 on September 6th. The bill would repeal the standalone requirements prohibiting teachers from communicating privately with students that had created confusion and concern for educators and provoked several lawsuits. The bill revises, but does not repeal, the language requiring school boards to enact policies regarding employee-student communications, and thus goes beyond what the Governor’s proclamation seeks to specify as a remedy. The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on September 7, pending referral to committee.
“The Association is continuing to work with legislators and the Governor’s office toward the goal of consensus for a legislative fix to the concerns raised by SB 54, and will continue to seek opportunities to achieve that consensus as the Extraordinary Session continues. The real answer is a legislative answer, not a court battle. If the issue cannot be resolved during a Special Session, the next opportunity will be when the Regular Session begins in January.”
UPDATE 11:19 a.m. The Missouri House stands adjourned until 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, for a technical session.
UPDATE 4:05 p.m. About four minutes ago, the Kansas City Star reported a Missouri senate panel voted to repeal the controversial state statute regulating teachers communicating with students using social media: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/07/3126775/missouri-senate-panel-oks-repeal.html
Earlier today, the Missouri State Teachers’ Association provided the following update on their Facebook page: “MSTA will testify against Senator Cunningham’s bill in the current form and work with the Education committee to amend the bill so it is satisfactory to us. Right now, there is not any action that needs to be taken. We will update you after the hearing this afternoon.”
UPDATE 8:29 p.m. Previously we published a link to Sen. Cunningham’s SB1, which she intended to revise SB 54. The Missouri State Teachers’ Association, which sued the state over this bill on behalf of teachers’ free-speech rights, did not like SB1, so they proposed their own version: “162.069. 1. Every school district shall, by March 1, 2012, promulgate a written policy concerning employee-student communication. Such policy shall include, but not be limited to, the use of electronic media and other mechanisms to prevent improper communications between staff members and students.” This is the language the Senate committee approved this afternoon. Debate by the full Senate could occur tomorrow. For more information on what has been happening behind the scenes, here is a link to a blog post by the MSTA legislative director, Mike Wood: http://mostateteachers.typepad.com/missouri_state_teachers_a/2011/09/updates-from-the-special-session.html
UPDATE Sept. 8, 2011 3:30 p.m. This just in from the Missouri State Teachers’ Association: The Missouri Senate will debate the revised bill Monday, Sept. 12, at 4 p.m.
UPDATE Sept. 9, 2011 11:20 a.m. In response to concerns expressed on their Facebook site regarding the effect of SB 1 on teachers’ First Amendment rights, MSTA posted the following update: “Given the attention this bill received language was going to be introduced to fix the issues. While we would have preferred to wait until January and give our members time to help with the language, this moved too quickly through the special session for us to do that. Additionally, many districts were going to create some kind of a policy if they did not already have one. Because of this process we are now aware of a few districts that have policies that are too restrictive. We intend to work with individual districts and teachers to make sure that all district policies continue to give teachers their first amendment rights, while at the same time allowing for proper use of technology.
“It is important to remember that we aren’t stopping our lawsuit on this matter because no one knows what will happen next. Also, we can still address this specific issue at MSTA’s Assembly of Delegates in November. It is not too late and the process is just starting.”
UPDATE September 11, 2011 4:54 p.m. The Missouri State Senate just passed the language approved last week by the Education Committee.
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