So our neighbors to the southwest have passed Missouri SB54, a bill that (as promoted) protects children from predatory teachers. While the bill is chock-full of child sexual abuse prevention measures, what it is getting the most attention for is its apparent ban of teacher/student contact on social media platforms.
The law reads:
"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."
It is the second sentence of that quote that is most intriguing. While the law goes on to define former students as individuals who are under 18 (just not currently their student ) it doesn't go on to define nonwork-related website. The headline may be facebook, but the implications could reach far into other aspects of the internet.
The movement in schools is to include more, not to have less, social interaction with students through online tools. Under this law, it may be illegal for a teacher to have interactions on any site in which allows exclusive access. Want to use Meet-Up to promote a local PTA fundraiser? That might be against the law. Checkin-In to foursquare at the football game and it just so happens a student checks-in too, you may lose your job.
Why was it just websites? Why not emails or text messages? Chat Services? Do the predatory teachers in Missouri somehow use social media exclusively? Why not a blanket ban from all communication like the Virginia's State Board of Education did?
This Missouri law is odd on so many levels (not just the fact that teachers and students can't be social media friends) that you can't help but to wonder are we fixing a problem or chasing a headline.
Take section 162.014 which allows convicted sex offenders to remain on Missouri school boards for the remainder of their term, just not run for new one. As if to say, our kids' safety is so important we won't let you run again, but not important enough to remove you from office. Truly an elected sex offender has ideas to offer too, right?
Or review section 160.262 which reads:
"This act authorizes the Office of the Child Advocate to offer mediation services when requested by both parties when child abuse allegations arise in a school setting. The mediator must not be a mandated reporter of child abuse."
In other words, a teacher may actually be able to sexually assault a student in Missouri and not goto jail if the school district can convince the parents of the student to choose mediation. I cannot imagine who wrote the sentence, "The mediator must not be a mandated reporter of child abuse." The sole purpose of having mandated reporters is to require people (with the full force of law) to report every incident. You don't get a "get out of jail free card" just because the situation may be bad press for the school district.
As a society we should support efforts to create safer environments for our children, it just seems like we have tougher hurdles to cross like guns in our schools, or hate based bullying. When I watch Springfield debate bills like the recent Link Card photo bill, or teenage tanning salon ban bill - I wonder if Illinois is unique in its rush to write a bill because the media has a juicy story. With this new Missouri bill, it is great to know we are not alone in our legislative "chase the headline" walk of shame.
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