The Internet was burning last week with stories about Missouri’s new law banning Facebook friendships between students and teachers. The talk on the web suggests that teachers and students can’t be friends on Facebook. But is that really what the law says?
The easiest way to answer that question is to go directly to the law. What’s the best way to do that? We could try to find the law by turning to the Missouri statutes database on Lexis or Westlaw, but that won’t work. Why not? The statute is too new. The easiest way to begin tracking a new law, one that is the talk of the town, is to begin with Google. The search <<Missouri facebook teachers friends>> brings up over 34 million results, including reputable news sites.
News stories, such as the National Public Radio story, include background information about the law. The story includes the number for the bill (SB 54), the name of the bill’s sponsor (Missouri State Representative Chris Kelly), and the approximate date of the bill (“signed into law last month [July].”
The NPR researchers and writers make it easy for us to look at the exact language of the law—they link directly to the Missouri Senate website containing the language of the bill. Fantastic! A free legal research tool for those who are interested in Missouri law.
Reviewing the bill summary provided by the Missouri site, we can see that the bill was divided into sections, each section numbered to indicate where the law will be found in the state code, once codified. The section of interest for teachers, students, and bloggers is Missouri state statute section 162.069. The exact language of the law: “Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”
Although Facebook is not mentioned, the law appears to prohibit teachers from maintaining social network sites that allow for private communication with a student.
Whether the law would withstand constitutional challenges is another question!