After August 28, 2011 Missouri teachers will be breaking the law if they use social media sites or text messaging to communicate with students. This is because of a new law called the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which is designed to protect children from being molested by teachers. According to Alan Scher Zagier’s article, Mo. Teachers Protest Social Media Crackdown, “The law was proposed after an Associated Press investigation found 87 Missouri teachers had lost their licenses between 2001 and 2005 because of sexual misconduct, some of which involved explicit online messages with students.”
Sponsor Senator Jane Cunningham, who fought for the legislation for five years, named the Act after Amy Hestir. At 13 years old, Amy was manipulated by her seventh-grade music teacher into a sexual relationship that lasted for over a year. Although Amy felt she could not come forward while the abuse was happening, at 40 years old, she bravely testified in front of the Missouri legislature to support her namesake Act before it was passed unanimously by the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon. During her testimony, Amy said, “I support this bill 100% and I am not afraid to tell my story even though it brought so much shame on me for so long.”
The Act has is supposed to protect children in five key ways.
1) Mandatory reporting requirements to the new investigation authority, the Children’s Division.
2) The creation of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children (also known as “Erin’s Law”).
3) More thorough background checks and harsher penalties for teachers found guilty of sexual misconduct.
4) The formation of a written policy providing for compulsory information sharing between districts regarding former employees.
5) The establishment of new district-level communication policies and a state-level restriction on the use of various multimedia sources.
The last section has proved to be the most controversial part of the Act. The relevant part of section 162.069 states:
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 non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”
The Act defines a former student 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.” Thus, under the new Act, current and former students are prohibited from using private non-work-related websites to communicate. However, many people find this restriction illogical; questioning why students and teachers are prohibited from communicating privately online or via text messaging but no prohibition exists when it comes to private communication in the classroom or via a phone conversation.
This Act also has a lot of problems when it comes to its constitutionality. In short, it is likely that this Act will not survive First Amendment and Due Process scrutiny, as it is overly vague, too broadly drafted and excessively restrictive. For an excellent Constitutional analysis of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, please read Bob Buckley’s article, Law to Protect Students Will Have Unintended Consequences.
Please read the following articles to learn more about Amy Hestir Student Protection Act:
Also, please read my previous article about Teachers and Social Media: