What’s done is done…some thoughts on Missouri SB 54

'The Straight and Narrow Path' photo (c) 2009, Eric Nielsen - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There has been no shortage of tweets and blog posts around this new legislation that is MO SB 54. You can read the full legislation, which is known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act and establishes the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, here. The part of this legislation that is creating a stir is SECTION 162.069 Paragraph 1 which states:

By January 1, 2012, every school district must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communication and employee-student communications. Each policy must include appropriate oral and nonverbal personal communication, which may be combined with sexual harassment policies, and appropriate use of electronic media as described in the act, including social networking sites. 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 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.

Everyone is in an uproar about this. Why? The legislation has been passed and was signed by Governor Nixon three weeks ago. Sure, I think it’s unfortunate that we are legislating common sense to Missouri educators. Why is this law being geared solely at school districts? Are private schools having to follow this same mandate? Are any other institutions that work with children having to fall in line and follow the same rules? It’s unfortunate that we’ve passed legislation against the medium, rather than the behavior. Am I incorrect here? Here’s where I’m headed back to: where was everyone before this bill was signed on July 14th? I heard nothing about it before it was too late. Who failed who here? Had Missouri school district and teachers been better informed could something have been done before this bill was signed into law? I digress, since the title of this post is “What’s done is done” after all.

So my question is, to Missouri school districts, what are you going to do now that what’s done is done? Do we want to take the wider, more traveled path (blocking and banning and such) or the narrower, less traveled path (making this a priority to educate our teachers and students on positive and effective use AND allow it). Why weren’t we already widening the narrow path?

Missouri, let’s head down the narrow path as a state please. I would hope we can protect children and also be effective in our instruction by continuing to move forward rather than remain stagnant.  I’d like to see teachers and students work together in the process of creating this new policy.  To other districts in other states not wanting repeat legislation, what are you going to do?

So what can be done now? Here are some thoughts I have about it. Please note: this is my opinion only and does not reflect what’s going to happen in my school district. Please consult with your administrator to confirm policy specific to your district about what is permitted and what is not. If you’re in a district that allows teachers to use Facebook to communicate with students, obviously teachers are going to need to delete any current or former students they are “friends” with on Facebook. Note the definition of “former student” included in the link mentioned above:

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.

Remember, it is possible to still use Facebook as a communication tool without having to “friend” students. This is where it comes in handy to know how to create a Facebook page. You can get all the info on how to create a page that students, parents, and the community can “like” in the Facebook help center. Start here to learn what a Facebook page is, then you can read further on how it differs from your personal profile, and then how to begin creating your page. If you want to see some examples of how Facebook pages are used in education here are a few to check out:

Lee’s Summit School District – Lee’s Summit, MO

New Milford High School – New Milford, NJ

Winecoff Elementary School – Concord, NC

There are many more great examples I’m sure and please feel free to leave a comment and share yours. More information can be found on Facebook’s page for teachers called Teaching Digital Kids, which has great information on how to use pages with students and parents  as well as suggestions for best practices and keeping students safe. At the bottom of that page you can also download the free Facebook for Educators Guide (PDF).

If Facebook is not allowed in your district then perhaps another alternative could be Edmodo or Collaborize Classroom. Both of these tools are very education friendly and allow teachers to create a secure environment to communicate with students and facilitate discussions, etc. outside of the regular school day. Edmodo does offer a parent access option and once you have created a Collaborize Classroom site you can also invite administrators and parents to join as well so they may access the classroom communication that is happening. Another post I would recommend reading for some additional information is this one by Audrey Watters.

Of course, if you’re looking for a classroom communication tool you certainly don’t need to look much further than Twitter. Students, parents, and administrators can visit your Twitter page to get your classroom updates in 140 characters or less. This information can be accessed without even needing a Twitter account. Provide the address to your classroom Twitter page and that’s all parents and students need. With the mobile options available for many of these tools this also makes it not only easier for students and parents to access the communication, it makes it easier for the teacher as well to post new items of information.

I just wanted to throw a few thoughts out there about this, ask some questions, and offer some suggestions that will hopefully help whether you’re a teacher in Missouri or not. I welcome your comments.

Thanks for reading.