I’m constantly making fun of my sister for not having her own Facebook account and yet spending countless hours logged onto my account. She does what we all do: looks up
ex-boyfriends old friends, checks out people’s wedding and baby pics, makes fun of cheesy status updates. Anyway, she finally acknowledged recently that the main reason she’s not a regular FB-er is because she works in education. She’s actually the junior high division head at a Toronto private school, which means she deals with tweens and teens all day long, and she’s really not interested in being their Facebook friend. So she simplifies her life by staying off the social networking site altogether.
If my sister lived in Missouri, she’d be a poster child-slash-superstar. That’s because the state has issued a new law that makes it illegal for teachers to privately contact current or former students on Facebook and other social networking sites. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jane Cunningham and signed into law by Governor Jay Nixon, and it’s set to take effect August 28.
The reason for this new law? In a nutshell, to clearly define student-teacher boundaries. In fact, the law– called the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act” – is in honor of Amy Hestir, a young woman who was sexually assaulted by her teacher at age 13.
Like any new law, this one is not without controversy. Vicki Sauter, professor of information systems at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, tells CNN that the law is misguided. “If we’re going to get through to the kids, my philosophy is that you have to get on their level and talk to them their way,” she tells CNN. “Their way these days is electronically. What this (law) is doing is taking away a tool that a teacher can use to communicate with their students.”
While my sister’s school is liberal in many ways, she says there’s no need for students to see their teacher’s Facebook photos where they might be clad in a bikini, for instance, or holding a cocktail (not that there’s anything wrong with either of these actions – it’s just that students don’t need to be privy). She encourages her staff not to communicate with students via email unless it’s strictly academic (so, for example, no email forwards, no happy birthday messages). “I always say, Do it in person. It’s too easy to blur the lines between what appropriate and what’s not.”
It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by many teachers. Cara Shuckett teaches ninth and tenth grades in a New York City public school. She has a strict policy of not friending students on Facebook, which is standard at the school. “It is pretty scary what they post without realizing it. We actually busted a bunch of kids who we had suspected were major potheads but were not sure. Then they posted all these pictures with huge bags of pot,” she tells me. “We couldn’t punish them because it was off school property, but parents were notified.”
Shuckett thinks it’s excessive for it to be a state law not to “friend” your students, but she does believe it should be school policy: “There are plenty of other ways to communicate with students without using Facebook.”