Missouri Teachers Forbidden from “Friending” Students on Facebook

cSocial media sites have become a convenient way for people to connect online — even for teachers and students. But soon Missouri teachers will be restricted from connecting with students online in an effort to more clearly define the boundaries of the teacher-student relationship.

Starting August 28th, teachers in Missouri will be forbidden from “friending” their students on any social networking site, such as Facebook. Missouri Senate Bill 54, which was signed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on July 14th, was instated to prevent sexual misconduct between teachers and students.

The bill goes far beyond simply friending. In addition to sending or accepting a friend request from students, Missouri teachers will also be prohibited from commenting on students’ photos, notes, walls and status updates; messaging students (both directly and indirectly) and sharing data with students — all of which are defined as “exclusive access” by the bill.

According to the bill, it is up to each individual school district to “develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications.” However, the bill explicitly prohibits the use of social networking sites by teachers to connect with students. The bill prohibits use of sites other than social networking sites as well. Any non work-related site that allows exclusive access with a current student is also prohibited. The bill also prohibits teachers from connecting with former students as well. “Former student” is defined by the bill as any person who was at one time a student at the school where the teacher is employed and who is 18 years of age or less and who has not graduated.

There is one exception to the rule: Teachers are allowed to establish and maintain online community pages on Facebook, which students are allowed to “like” or become fans of. For example, a teacher who also coaches at a Missouri school could start a fan page for the school’s basketball team. Both teachers and students, and anyone who is associated with or who simply supports the basketball team, can become a member of the fan page. However, as members of the same community group, any communication that is deemed as exclusive access is still prohibited between students and teachers.

Missouri is the first state to ban teachers from interacting with students using social media. Given that the bill will set a legal precedent, it has yet to be determined how the law will be policed, as inappropriate relationships fostered via social networking sites will be difficult to detect.

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