Missouri's state Senate voted 33-0 Wednesday in support of a bill to ban Facebook communication, and other electronic communication among public school students and staff. The bill would now go before state representatives.
Republican state Sen. Jane Cunningham is trying a second time to win lawmakers' support after state courts halted enactment of a previous measure when the state teachers organization threatened a lawsuit over it.
The measure would effectively ban Facebook use by public schools staff and students. Cunningham's office has said previously it would protect students from potential staff predators.
Last month, Patch reported on the controversy surrounding Cunningham's Missouri Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act—also known as the Facebook ban—to stop use of social media between students and teachers and other school staff.
Cunningham is a former Ladue schools board of education director.
The measure became state law in August, but has yet to go into effect, after state teachers demanded a court injunction to halt its enactment.
According to the current law, a teacher cannot send an email, text message, "friend" students on Facebook, or have any private interaction with a student, unless both school administrators and the student’s parents have access to the interaction.
This effectively bans their use of Facebook, since the social media site does not operate in that manner.
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As previously reported by Patch, the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) is suing the state over that Missouri social network law claiming it was too vague. MSTA was awarded an injunction on August 26, just two days before the new law was to take effect.
At that time Gov. Jay Nixon called for repeals to parts of Senate Bill 54 and Cunningham told Patch she was willing to rework the wording to eliminate any confusion among school districts and staff.
Cunningham now tells Patch that a revised version of the social media portions of Senate Bill 54 will go before the General Assembly and may land on the desk of the governor and be ready to be signed into law, as early as next weekend.
However, when Patch asked Nixon's office whether he would sign SB 1 when and if it does end up on his desk, Press Secretary Scott Holste said: “Because so many changes can happen to a bill before it reaches the governor’s desk, we’re not going to be able to answer that now.”
Fuller also said the teachers organization is in a "wait-and-see mode" because of the many potentialities that exist for the current SB 1 to be altered before being signed into law—as well as the possibility it may not be signed into law at all.
Fuller said the teachers (MSTA) said they will not withdraw the lawsuit until a bill containing language satisfactory to them is finalized and signed into law.
The new version of the bill needs to go through a third reading and vote of approval in the senate—scheduled for Wednesday—after which it goes to the state House of Representatives that could be voted on as early as Thursday.
The measure could also die at any of these stages.
The revisions to the social media aspects of SB 54 have taken the form of Senate Bill 1, a bill also sponsored by Cunningham, that has been slated to be debated and voted on during the current special session of the General Assembly.
If passed, SB 1 would replace the portions of SB 54 that teachers claimed were confusing. SB 1 is a direct result of the injunction on SB 54, won by the MSTA, that came as a result of Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem agreeing with the MSTA that parts of SB 54 were in fact vague and confusing.
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Cunningham says that SB 1 "keeps [the] intent of the original SB 54, requiring that school districts come up with their own policy in regards to electronic communication."
Two key differences
Cunningham said the new bill is different from the old in two key ways, and these changes are the result of compromising with the MSTA and addressing their concerns with the original SB 54.
- The first change is that every district must have a policy on social media in place by March 1, 2012. The date had previously been Jan 1, 2012.
- Secondly, the language of the bill was expanded from “teacher” to include “employee or staff” so that it is clear that it is not only the school’s teachers for whom there must be a clearly defined policy in regard to social networking communication with students.
With those two changes in place, SB 1 received the endorsement of the MSTA as well as, according to Cunningham, every other major education group in the state.
“When we looked, the language [of SB 1] had pretty much gotten back to what we were looking for,” MSTA Director of Communication Scott Fuller said.
“I haven’t seen the latest (version), so I can’t really comment on it specifically,” Parkway School District Spokesperson Cathy Kelly told Patch. “We understand there was some confusion and we’re glad it’s being addressed.”
*Local editors Gabrielle Biondo and Jean Whitney contributed to this report.