Should Teachers and Students Be Facebook Friends?

Angela Skinner Mullen

In the last few years, a Missouri law just went into effect which forbids teachers and students from becoming friends on social networks, including Facebook.

The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act – otherwise known as “The Facebook Law” was created in an effort to keep teachers from entering into inappropriate relationships with their students by not allowing them to interact online. Amy Hestir was a student who was repeatedly assaulted by a high school teacher. Here is an excerpt from 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.”

In response, the Missouri State Teachers Association filed a lawsuit stating that the law is unconstitutional. And I agree. The law is too far-reaching, and seems to imply that if children are interacting with their teachers online, abuse is happening. This is simply not true.

The eighth graders in my son’s school regularly email their teacher for questions about assignments. Many are friends with this teacher on Facebook as well. I am sure teachers in Missouri are either completely confused as to what they can and cannot do – or are just going to avoid the medium all together out of fear for this law. The teacher/student relationship can be an influential, trusting one; some children remain close to their teachers years after they graduate without any inappropriateness going on.

There are better ways to ensure teacher/student relationships stay appropriate. Rather than restricting rights, we need to instead focus on educating our children on what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior online – and off -- with their teachers and other adults. As parents, it’s our responsibility to have these conversations with our children, and to teach them to behave online responsibly.

View the law in its entirety here. http://www.senate.mo.gov/11info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=4066479

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