More about the Missouri Education & Social Media law. Wrote a long letter addressed to my representatives and figured I’d post it here for anyone who was interested.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing you, as a concerned citizen and voter, regarding Section 162.069 of Missouri Senate Bill #54, which states that, “Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Former student is defined as any person who was at one time a student at the school at which the teacher is employed and who is eighteen years of age or less and who has not graduated.”

Not only does this law make a blatant assumption that most – if not all – teachers have ulterior motives, but it also assumes that the influence of teachers is a negative one on the lives of children. 

Because I am 18, as the law states I cannot legally keep in touch online with the teachers and staff who have had such a positive impact on my life these past few years. My aunt works  for the high school I attended, and under this law as I understand it, I am not allowed to be Facebook friends with her until I turn 19. 

I, for one, have used private online contact with teachers I have grown close to in order to discuss everything from unclear homework assignments to asking advice in personal matters. If the younger generation is embracing social media, their educators should do the same and serve as role models on these sites. This law screams that the people of Missouri do not trust the teachers responsible for their children – a distinctly un-American presumption of guilty until proven innocent.

This law violates the First Amendment, as highlighted in this article. As ACLU of Eastern Missouri Legal Director Anthony Rothert suggests, the ability of teachers and students to communicate privately helps children reach out for help without fear of retribution if they experience bullying, need extra homework help, or are dealing with difficult home situations. In addition, the law does nothing to ban private face-to-face or telephone conversations between students and teachers, both of which are more private (and potentially dangerous) than online communication because these do not leave an electronic trail that can be used to prove inappropriate relations between a teacher and student.

I have seen teachers drive hours to support a student in a swim meet or mock trial competition. I have seen teachers forego time with their own family and stay at school from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. to sponsor student clubs and sports. I have seen teachers turn down high-paying administrative jobs because they wanted to stay in the classroom where they made the biggest difference in the lives of their students. Our educators are selfless individuals, serving their community by fostering positive relationships with the students they teach. Laws like these cripple those who dedicate their lives to the care of our state’s youth when we should be punishing the actual offenders. If a student feels uncomfortable in a relationship with a teacher, ideally they should have a different teacher or staff member in whom they feel comfortable confiding. Putting this ill-considered legal wall between students and teachers can only hinder any hope for positive student-teacher connections.

While the law obviously has good intentions, it was written without speaking to educators or students. Sen. Cunningham has no social media presence herself. I read (although I cannot verify this) that she admitted she first authored this bill five years ago. Five years ago, social media platforms like Twitter or smart phones like the iPhone didn’t exist. If the Missouri Senate is to pass a law concerning the internet, they would do well to speak with people who fully understand social media’s role in modern education. The law as it is is vague and confusing, and it is simply a mistake.

I suppose we can only hope that one day students and educators will actually have a hand in crafting the policies that concern them.

I have already signed a petition asking the repeal of this law, and I plan to contact the Missouri branch of the ACLU in their fight against it. Like most people my age, I know quite well how to work Twitter and Facebook, and I will be spreading the word to all of my peers. I beg you to take the wishes of the parents, teachers and students into consideration and repeal this misguided law as soon as possible. Thank you for your time. 

Sincerely,

Devan Coggan

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