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Teachers Suing Over Missouri Social Network Law

The Missouri State Teachers Association is suing the state over a new Missouri social network law that takes effect Aug. 28.

The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) is suing the state over a new Missouri social network law that prevents students and teachers from having conversations that cannot be accessed by school administrators and parents. This also means they cannot be friends on Facebook, something many teachers and students told Patch they disagree with because it's a common method of communication between the two parties these days.

Senate Bill 54, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, is sponsored by Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, and designed to protect students. For years, Cunningham, a former Ladue school board member, has bemoaned a practice she's described as "passing the trash," as teachers accused of misconduct would float from one school district to another.

A main thrust of the bill was to make the law more clear about a school district's responsibilities when dealing with teachers accused of sexual misconduct. MSTA opposes the section of the bill that teachers feel will inhibit their ability to communicate with students through social media sites such as Facebook and through text messaging.

The lawsuit, filed by MSTA Friday afternoon, names Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster as the defendants.

"They're the ones who signed the bill into law," Todd Fuller, MSTA director of communications told Patch. "We want the court to stop this from going forward."

The law is scheduled to take effect Aug. 28. Fuller said that after receiving calls from teachers and other school staff members across the state, there is too much confusion about the law and districts are scrambling to get policies in place.

"What we've heard and found as our members are starting to understand the implications and ramifications of the bill, there are far more scenarios and ways it affects teachers than anyone thought before," Fuller said. "Then once we heard from our teachers, we realized that it's a vague section of the bill. It's confusing and frustrating and something needs to be done."

Fuller said the first thing MSTA wants is some type of injunction to stop the bill from moving forward until it's determined by a court if it is constitutional or not.

"When you look at the language itself, that sounds fine, and it is. But what happened is that as the bill went on and when it tried to be more specific and explain what teachers could and couldn't do, it then got more confusing," Fuller said.

Cunningham tells Patch that critics haven't read the bill or are knowingly spreading bad information. She said the bill passed both houses because it was supported and crafted by groups including the MSTA.

However, Fuller hopes to have an injunction by the court by Aug. 28.

"If that doesn't happen, as districts are putting policies in place, we're hoping that there will be some kind of judgement before Jan. 1," Fuller said.

MSTA represents about 44,000 Missouri teachers and school employees. Fuller said he's also learned that the law, although it mentions teachers, affects additional school employees, too.

"And that's another confusing part of the bill. We have bus drivers asking, 'Does this affect me?' and the assumption is, based on that we've heard from legislators, is 'Yeah, it does,' even though it's not clear.

Scott Holste, spokesperson for Governor Jay Nixon, told Patch Friday afternoon that presently, the governor's office declined to comment on the suit.

*Local Editor Gregg Palermo contributed to this report.

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