Governor Nixon has asked the legislature to repeal provisions from a senate bill that seeks to limit teacher-student communications via social networking sites.
The controversial issue has been contested by the Missouri State Teachers Association and taken up in the courts. The Cole County Court filed a restraining order against that portion of the bill this week.
“First and foremost, our top concern and priority is and always will be protecting children across Missouri, and making sure students receive the quality education they need and deserve,” Gov. Nixon says. “In a digital world, we must recognize that social media can be an important tool for teaching and learning. At the same time, we must be vigilant about threats posed to students through the Internet and other means. Because of confusion and concern among educators, students and families over this specific provision of Senate Bill 54, I will ask the General Assembly to repeal that particular section, while preserving other vital protections included in the bill. In addition, I will be asking for input on this issue from teachers, parents and other stakeholders.”
Nixon wants the General Assembly to a section that requires school districts to adopt a policy on student-teacher communications and which specifically addresses electronic communications between school employees and students.
The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act includes a number of additional provisions that protect students from sexual misconduct and will not be included in this addition to the special session call, including requiring disclosure of substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct by a former employee of a school to a public school that inquires about potentially hiring the employee; requiring that reports of sexual misconduct by a teacher or employee be forwarded to the Department of Social Services within 24 hours for an investigation; Requiring annual background checks of teachers; requiring immediate suspension of school employees upon substantiation of sexual misconduct; banning registered sex offenders from running for and serving on school boards; requiring school districts to include training on the signs of sexual abuse in employee training; establishing that crimes relating to sexual misconduct are a basis for discipline and the revocation of teachers’ licenses; and creating a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children (“Erin’s Law”).
Sen. Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), sponsor of the bill, says she will be filing a bill in special session to clarify the portion of the bill contested in courts and by the Governor.
She says the bill is “vital to protecting school students from sexual predators in our public school classrooms. Unfortunately, while constitutional, a small section of the bill relating to communications policies between students and educators or other school personnel has led to confusion in how it is to be implemented. We welcome the opportunity to clarify and remove any ambiguity in the law during September’s special session. My office has been working with education stakeholders and teachers’ groups across the state for some time and I am prepared to work with my colleagues to introduce and pass compromise language both protecting our students online, while enabling our teachers to continue to use technology as a teaching tool.”
She adds that “Studies show that Missouri ranked 11th nationally for educators losing their license for sexual misconduct. The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act will help prevent the sexual abuse of children by ending the practice of teachers with a history of sexual misconduct from moving from school district to district, without their prior record following them. I am confident we will build on this success that was endorsed by all education and teachers’ groups and passed unanimously in both the House and Senate to develop strong, but reasonable strategies to protect our students from online abuses.”