Illegal Facebook Friends: Children and Their Teachers

Missouri may be the 'Show-Me State,' but the state is attempting to ban teachers and students from showing each other their Facebook pages. The move, which may seem extreme, is the result of significant controversy over how the social networking site is used. In recent years, though, Facebook has been known more for teacher embarrassment than predatory behavior.

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Outlawing Friendships

Missouri Senate Bill 54, which would block students and teachers from communicating on 'nonwork-related Internet sites' like Facebook, was supposed to take effect on August 28. The controversial bill was blocked at the last minute and its fate is now uncertain. Yet the law garnered significant support, including that of Governor Jay Nixon and the Missouri Senate.

The Missouri law was also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act. In the 1980s, Amy Hestir was befriended by a teacher at her school. He had her babysit his kids, then he took their relationship further, with the teacher ultimately forcibly raping the then-13-year-old girl. She became the inspiration for the law aimed at limiting relationships between teachers and students outside of school.

A Long History of Abuse

Facebook only came into existence in 2004, yet it's short life has yielded no shortage of controversies. Teachers throughout the country have been punished, including getting fired, for what were perceived as inappropriate comments on the Facebook pages of their students. Others have faced disciplinary actions after students found embarrassing pictures on the teachers' pages, including pictures glorifying alcohol abuse and sexually suggestive content.

While the Missouri law is designed to prevent teachers from initiating inappropriate relationships with students, most of the stories about teachers in hot water over Facebook involve the teachers inadvertently offending students, parents or their peers on the social networking site. For example, a school administrator in Massachusetts was recently forced to resign after posting on her page that the parents in her town were arrogant snobs and the students were 'germ bags.' That teacher cited her own stupidity in severely damaging her career.

The Benefits of Friending Students

Teachers who lose their jobs over Facebook often warn their peers against not only friending students, but using the site at all without the strictest caution. Yet others point to the benefits social networking sites offer teachers. Today's children have grown up with sites like Facebook and they've become an integral part of their lives. Some teachers use Facebook as a means of better understanding the world of their students. Schools often use Facebook pages because they're easier to update than websites and they can be a convenient forum for discussions and dialogue.

In other situations, teachers use Facebook to keep an eye on their students, both protecting them and investigating them. For example, there are countless stories of teachers uncovering lies their students have told them, such as why they missed class, when the students post the true story on their Facebook pages. In the end, teachers need to tread with caution when it comes to Facebook and similar sites. Just as job seekers are warned against having pictures from alcohol-fueled college parties visible to potential employers, teachers need to consider that anything they post online may find its way into students' hands.

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