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Questions Remain About Facebook Law in Kirkwood

The Kirkwood School District plans to wait and see as the issue goes to court.

The isn’t rushing to make changes in light of the recent passage of the so-called “Facebook Law” that has created a stir among teachers, school officials and students.

Last week, the Missouri State Teachers Association sued over the constitutionality of the measure that was signed into law last month. This week, the Missouri National Education Association announced it would work with the measure’s sponsor to clear up confusion.

And a Ladue teacher has filed suit, saying the law, which limits private electronic communication between teachers and students, would prevent her from communicating online with her own children, who are students in her own district.

KSD spokeswoman Ginger Fletcher said Kirkwood school officials would wait for an opinion from the Missouri School Boards Association on whether the district’s current policy on social media should be modified.

“We’re not going to go overboard,” she said. “We’re busy educating children.”

Before school began last week, teachers were reminded of the Kirkwood School District's policy against inappropriate use of social media, she said. In addition, teachers and coaches who use texting to communicate with students were directed to include an administrator on all messages.

“They just reiterated the policy,” she said. “We’re not contemplating any changes until we hear from the Missouri School Boards Association.”

Fletcher said teachers, students and parents should continue to use their best judgment. She said the district’s policy did not prohibit confidential communication between teachers and students, for instance by email or by phone, as long as it was appropriate contact.

“We’re telling them to continue to work in the best interests of the children and if they’re unsure to ask an administrator,” she said.

But some teachers want clarification on the district policy as well as on the new state law.

For instance, how does it apply to other forms of communication, such as email, phone calls, text messaging, Twitter and Google Docs, an online word processing program that is frequently used in schools but which also has the capacity for private chat.

“I think clarity is wanted by most people, administrators and teachers alike,” said journalism teacher Mitch Eden.

Eden said some of his students contacted state Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, about the issue and Stream offered to talk to Eden’s newspaper class on Monday.

One Kirkwood High School student said she wasn’t happy that the new law led some of her former teachers to “unfriend” her.

“I really like most of my teachers,” said senior Suzy Bambini, 17. “I actually care about what’s going on in their life.”

Bambini said Facebook, Twitter and texting were the most common and fastest ways of communicating for people her age.

She said understood the reasoning behind the law but thought it was unnecessary.

Eighth-grader Tim Nile, 13, said he had been Facebook friends with a couple of former teachers, too.

“I think it’s sort of silly,” Nile said. “I liked keeping in touch with them. They were some of my favorite teachers.”

The legislation was aimed at protecting children from sexual assault. One part of it concerning electronic communication was intended to limit exclusive – or private—communication between students and teachers, said the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield.

The MSTA filed suit in Cole County Circuit Court last week to try to stop that section of law from being implemented until the constitutionality could be determined.

The teachers’ organization said the law hampered teachers’ abilities to communicate with students and infringed upon their first amendment rights.

The law, which goes into effect Aug. 28, sets a Jan. 1 deadline for school districts to create their own policies on social media.

Meanwhile, another group representing teachers, the Missouri National Education Association, said Tuesday it was meeting with Cunningham to try to address the concerns.

Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri NEA, said he hoped the issues could be ironed out in a special legislative session in September.

"Clean-up bills are sometimes necessary and (the) special session could provide an opportunity for a quick fix," Fajen said. "If the education community and sponsor of the original legislation can find a commonsense solution, we will formally ask the governor to consider the legislation for a special session.”

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