Judge blocks teacher Facebook law; Governor calls for fix

2011-08-26T11:15:00Z 2012-12-18T17:18:02Z Judge blocks teacher Facebook law; Governor calls for fixFROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS stltoday.com

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. • A Missouri judge has blocked a law restricting Internet communications between teachers and students from taking effect Sunday.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Nixon said today that he will ask the legislature during a special session beginning Sept. 6 to repeal specific provisions included in law, which passed unanimously earlier this year. Nixon also said he will seek input from parents and classroom teachers.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem issued a preliminary injunction against the law Friday, calling it a staggering prohibition of free speech rights.

The judge's order puts the law on hold until at least February, allowing time for a hearing on whether the law should be permanently blocked.

The Missouri law would have barred teachers from using websites that give "exclusive access" to current students or former students who are minors.

That would have meant that communication through Facebook or other social networking sites would have had to be done in public, rather than through private messages.

The Missouri State Teachers Association, which brought the lawsuit, said the ruling affirms their organization's assertion that the law would cripple the free speech of educators.

"The judge was pretty clear and concise in his opinion on this language," said Todd Fuller, a spokesman for the organization.

The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act was named after a woman who said she was sexually abused as a young girl by a teacher. The law includes a measure that says districts must develop policies by Jan. 1 about electronic communication between teachers and students.

Some districts say the law will make it illegal for teachers to include students among their Facebook friends, including their own children.

Supporters of the law had dismissed such interpretations as extreme.

But critics say the ruling today affirms that the law vastly oversteps its bounds.

Fuller said the judge recognizes that the law could prohibit  necessary and routine communication between students, teachers and even parents.

"We're happy with the decision," Fuller said.

Earlier this week, the author of the legislation -- Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield -- agreed to work with opponents on a clean-up bill to address what her office called potential ambiguities.

Some had hoped such legislation could be included in a special legislative session slated for next month.

The Missouri National Education Association and Cunningham's office say they want to work together on a cleanup bill that would disarm a dispute attracting national attention. The two sides hope the matter can be taken up as early as next month, when the Legislature convenes a special session.

In an addition to the lawsuit ruled on today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Ladue teacher Christina Thomas and others who say the new law is broad, vague and violates First Amendment rights.

Check back at STLtoday.com for more on this breaking story.

 

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