Editor's Note: MSTA Staff Attorney, Kyle Farmer and MSTA Director of Government Relations, Mike Wood, assisted with this post.
Many teachers have questions about Senate Bill 54 and how it will affect them. Governor Nixon signed the bill into law effective on August 28th.
The bill requires schools to share information about district employees, who are terminated or allowed to resign due sexual misconduct involving a student. This provision applies to situations where the child abuse and neglect review board substantiates an allegation of sexual misconduct, but it also applies to district employees that are terminated regardless of whether the allegations are substantiated or not. As long as the termination or resignation is a “result of such allegations,” the district will face severe consequences if it does not share this fact with future potential employers.
The bill also requires annual background checks for teachers, bars registered sex offenders from serving on school boards and creates a new task force of lawmakers and state child welfare officials to focus on sexual abuse of children and complete a study by 2013.
A provision that deals with electronic communications between district employees and students seems to be the provision of the law that has teachers asking the most questions
What teachers need to know right now is that the law does not bar appropriate use of text messaging and social networking sites. Schools will have to address the question of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate when they establish a policy that is required by this law.
For Facebook and Twitter users, the bill would require that any communications that are made between a district employee and a student must be accessible to the administrators and parents. This would seem to imply that the communication must be publically posted on the Facebook wall and that no personal communications can be made via direct messaging or chats on Facebook. For Twitter, this means you cannot have an account with protected tweets or send direct messages.
How teachers use email will be another issue for districts to address in their policy. Since school district email is owned by the district and they have the ability to monitor the email accounts, it would seem that appropriate email to students would be allowed under this new law. However, district employees using a personal email addresses should not communicate with students or former students. Refraining from such contact protects an employee from false claims made by a student about any e-mail communication.
Here is the outline of the language in the new law.
Every school district shall, by January 1, 2012 promulgate a written policy concerning teacher-student communication. Such policy shall contain at least the following elements:
- Appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with or included in any policy on sexual harassment
- Appropriate use of electronic media such as text messaging and internet sites for both instructional and personal purposes, with an element concerning use of social networking sites not less stringent than the following:
a. No teacher shall establish, maintain or use a work-related internet site unless such site is
available to school administrators, and the child’s parents or guardian.
b. No teachers shall establish, maintain or use a nonwork-related internet site which allows exclusive access with a current or former student. Teachers can still establish a nonwork-related internet site provided it is used in accordance with this law.
- Exclusive access means that the information on the website is available only to the owner (teacher) and user (student) by mutual explicit consent and where third parties have no access to the information on the website absent an explicit consent agreement with the owner (teacher).
- Former student is 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
As districts workout the specifics of implementing this policy, we will keep you updated on what it means for educators in Missouri. Your best bet is if you have questions to talk to your principal and superintendent. Let them know your concerns.