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Criminal Penalties for Facebooking in Missouri

| August 6, 2011

Missouri Senate Bill 54, aka the Student Protection Act, seeks to combat inappropriate student-teacher contact.  According to a recent ZDNet article, the legislation increases penalties for failure to report sexual abuse of students, but it also criminalizes student-teacher contact on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Section 162.069 of the bill details the social networking provision:

“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.”

The wording of the legislation implies that a teacher may be allowed to have a work-related Facebook page, but any connection that goes beyond “work-related” will be impermissible.

The last clause of the law, which criminalizes contact between teachers and their former students, particularly ought to concern anybody worried about overcrminalization.  To put it in perspective, two years after I graduated from high school, when I was twenty years old, my junior high choir director added me on Facebook.  He was a fantastic mentor, a great teacher, and a character reference that I list on applications to this day.  In Missouri, he would be criminally liable

State Governor Jay Nixon signed the bill this week, which will go into effect at the end of August.  The enforcement provisions have not been laid out yet.

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