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Ladue Teacher Files Federal Suit Over New Missouri Social Media Law

A state representative who voted for the bill said Tuesday the legislation was "not a perfect bill."

Christina Thomas, a seventh-grade communications arts teacher at , is the lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit filed in the last week over the social media provisions of a new Missouri state law.

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Thomas, with backing of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is contesting provisions of the Senate Bill 54, the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act.

The lawsuit names the district, all other Missouri school districts as well as Ladue's superintendent Marsha Chappelow and superintendents statewide along with the state board of education. It alleges that the law, which limits electronic communications between a teacher and student that aren't monitored by a third party infringes on first and 14th amendment rights.

Thomas says the bill would prohibit her from communicating with her own children, who are students in the Ladue School District. The suit was first reported by The St. Louis Beacon Monday.

“We have some 200 to 300 students in the district who are children of our teachers, staff administrators and others,” said Susan Dielmann, the district’s communication director.

“There seems to be lots of confusion in the bill and how it is being interpreted,” Dielmann said.

On Aug. 9, Dr. Judy Sclair, assistant superintendent for human resources, issued a two-page memo to all the staff members of the district. The memo outlined all the implications for staff members dealing with the use of communications tools for social media such as Facebook and email. Thomas’ main concern is that she cannot communication by Facebook or other social media with her own children.

The bill goes into effect next week and gives school districts a January deadline to come up with policies regarding teacher-student communication.

Legislative Reaction

The bill, sponsored by Creve Coeur area State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), passed both houses unanimously. State Representative Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) Tuesday described the legislation as well intended, and supported the idea that there should be some ability to monitor teacher-student communication. But at the same time she said the legislation was not a perfect bill and that were parts she'd like to undo.

"Whenever we try and draw that line, I think we end up getting ourselves in trouble because we cannot define all potential problems," Schupp said Tuesday after a meeting with constituents at  in Creve Coeur.

According to The MissouriNet, the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association is working with Senator Cunningham and other lawmakers on language to clarify the bill in the hopes it could be added to next month's special legislative session.

A Cunningham aide told Patch there is hope that groups working together on the revised language to "remove any ambiguity" could have something ready for the Senator to review by Wednesday.

A calls seeking comment from the Governor's office was not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for the state board of education said she could not comment on pending litigation.

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