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Possible First Amendment Rights Violations: Teachers Association Concerned About Districts Enforcing New Policies

Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise | Photo Credit: 123rf stock image | Logo Credit: Missouri State Teachers Association

Districts are beginning to enforce their new electronic communications policies, and the Missouri State Teachers’ Association (MSTA) is concerned about possible First Amendment rights violations.

“We have heard reports of educators already being suspected of violations,” according to an MSTA blog post. “Some of the violations are personal Facebook posts that are controversial or political in nature.”

March 1 was the deadline set by the state of Missouri for boards of education to enact policies regulating communication of school staff members with students using electronic communication such as Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Most local districts complied with that directive. Now districts have started enforcing their new policies, and MSTA representatives are concerned that First Amendment rights may be violated. The association’s legal department is ready to assist teachers accused of violating the new rules.

Originally, the Missouri General Assembly included an electronics communication policy in the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which passed last spring. The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) sued, claiming the otherwise well-intentioned statute violated school staff members’ First Amendment rights to free speech. A circuit judge issued a preliminary injunction, saying this statewide policy was most likely unconstitutional.

Legal experts say existing laws already protect children from illegal online contact with adults, and the new policies may limit teachers’ ability to use technology in the classroom and communicate with students for legitimate purposes outside of class. Some of those legitimate purposes include doing class assignments online and communicating with students — even teachers’ own children — outside of school. Many teachers interact with young people through church programs, scouting, athletics and music classes, tutoring and for many other reasons.

Teachers accused of violating electronic communications policies for “non-work-related activities or communications” may contact the MSTA Legal Services Department.

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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