This afternoon, the education committee of the Missouri House of Representatives voted unanimously to send SB 1 — the new version of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act — to the House floor for debate. Last week the Missouri Senate granted its final approval to the bill, sending it to the House for consideration.
According to posts on the Missouri State Teachers’ Association (MSTA) Facebook page, the House committee vote was 13-0 during their hearing this afternoon in Jefferson City.
Last month, the MSTA sued the State of Missouri over the original language in this section of the Student Protection Act. After reviewing the arguments, a circuit court judge issued a 180-day injunction preventing the law from taking effect so he would have time to decide whether it violated state and federal free-speech rights.
Rep. Scott Dieckhaus (R-Washington), who chairs the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, reports on Twitter that he expects the whole House to debate the bill this Thursday, Sept. 22.
In other committee news, Rep. Dieckhaus also chairs the General Assembly’s Joint Interim Committee on School Accreditation, which is scheduled to meet next week on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 1 p.m. During their monthly meeting tomorrow, September 20, the Missouri State Board of Education is expected to consider the possibility of revoking the accreditation of the Kansas City, Missouri School District.
The text of SB 1 — which the House education committee approved today — is as follows: “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.” In other words, the State would no longer regulate online communications among teachers and students.
Today’s vote related to a revision of the section of The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act dealing with online communications. Sen. Jane Cunningham (R-West County), who originated the bill, proposed her own revision to the Education Committee last week. However, the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) suggested the language the Senate approved.
Even if the state Senate and House of Representatives vote on final approval of the MSTA’s own language, this issue will not necessarily be over. Earlier this month. the teachers association responded to member concerns on its Facebook page by stating they did not plan to end the lawsuit.
The MSTA’s statement on their Facebook page reads: “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.”
The MSTA declined to identify individual districts with too-restrictive policies regarding freedom of speech for teachers.
When Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon E. Beetem issued his injunction against the original bill last month, he wrote “The Court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech.” He added that the breadth of the prohibition of speech was “staggering” and that the MSTA had a “substantial likelihood” of winning their case.
Many educators objected to the original provision in the 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.
Sen. Cunningham said she was surprised by the controversy over a bill intended to prevent sexual abuse of students by teachers and other school staff members. After the problems were pointed out to her, she worked with education organizations such as the MSTA and the National Education Association to revise the bill.
Missouri’s General Assembly is not in regular session, which ended last May. However, when Governor Jay Nixon received the injunction, he had already called the state legislators into an unusual special session to debate several economic issues, and he instructed them to add a repeal of the controversial language in the child protection act to their agenda.
What the Senate approved today was not a repeal but a revision of the original controversial language, which was: “No teacher shall establish, maintain or use a non-work-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student.” Other provisions of The Amy Hestir Child Protection Act remain unchanged.
Amy Hestir 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 and did not do so until the statute of limitations had passed.
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 are 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.
Today’s vote took place during a special session of the Missouri General Assembly. Over the past decade, the Missouri General Assembly has met in special session only five times.
UPDATE: Sept. 21, 8:44 a.m. Just received the following information from the Missouri National Education Association’s legislative director:
“The House Rules Committee will meet later on September 21 to consider SCS/SB 1 (Jane Cunningham) and any versions of SB 7 and SB 8 approved by the House Economic Development Committee and referred to the Rules Committee.
“The House will hold technical sessions on both September 21 and 22. The House is tentatively scheduled to convene for floor debate on September 23. The House could debate any and all of the three Senate bills (SB 1, SB 7 and SB 8) that have been placed on the House calendar.”
UPDATE 11:43 p.m. According to the Missouri National Education Association’s legislative director:
“The House Rules Committee also cancelled a meeting on September 21 and rescheduled the meeting for September 22. The Committee may consider SCS/SB 1 (Jane Cunningham) and any versions of SB 7 and SB 8 approved by the House Economic Development Committee and referred to the Rules Committee.
“The House will hold technical session on September 22. The House is tentatively scheduled to convene for floor debate on September 23.”
UPDATE 11:27 a.m. This just in from the Missouri State Teachers Association: “From our Legislative Director, Mike Wood, It looks like any debate on Senate Bill 1 (previously Senate Bill 54) in the House will be tomorrow, not today.”
UPDATE September 23, 9:12 a.m. According to the Missouri National Education Association’s legislative director:
“HOUSE MAY DEBATE SCHOOL COMMUNICATION BILL
“The House Rules Committee met on September 22 and approved SCS/SB 1 (Jane Cunningham). The bill will be placed on the House calendar and may be taken up for debate and final passage when the House convenes for floor debate on September 23. If the House passes the bill without changes, it will be finally passed and sent to the Governor.
“SCS/SB 1 revises and simplifies existing law regarding school policies on employee-student communications as contained in section 162.069 from SB 54 (Jane Cunningham), a bill enacted in the 2011 Regular Session and signed into law by the Governor. The existing law provision creates confusion regarding a teacher’s ability to communicate that needs to be addressed legislatively.
Missouri NEA appreciates the Governor’s action to include the issue in the special session. SCS/SB 1 maintains local control so teachers, parents and students can provide input regarding board policies that affect them. At this time it is the only bill moving on this topic. The Association supports SCS/SB 1 as a way to enact a legislative fix to the concerns caused by SB 54 and will continue to work with legislators and the Governor’s office toward the goal of consensus around a legislative answer to the issue during the special session.”
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