Do Teacher-Student Facebook Friendships Cross the Line?
Missouri recently passed a law to severely limit online interactions between teachers and their students on social networking sites. It quickly became known as Missouri’s “Facebook Law,” and the state’s teachers union filed suit to block the new regulations from taking effect. A state judge has since struck the laww down as unconstitutional. On Monday, the St.
Louis Post-Dispatch reports, the state’s lawmakers were debating repealing the law and replacing it with requirements for school-based policies.
Meanwhile in Southern California, a school district is being sued after an assistant football coach sent sexually explicit texts and photographs to a 13-year-old girl. The coach pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 113 days in the county jail, according to the Los Angeles Times.
What these two stories have in common are issues of boundaries and common sense.There isn’t anyone who would think the coach’s behavior was appropriate. But I’m also hard-pressed to come up with a way that school districts can reasonably predict that an employee would engage in such reckless and harmful behavior.
As for the so-called Facebook Law, it seems more like an attempt to mollify community members (including parents) who don’t fully understand just how pervasive technology is in their children’s lives. Shutting the door on teacher-student online chats won’t keep children safe. It will only restrict educators from using a potentially useful interactive form of communication. That doesn’t mean online relationships between students and teachers shouldn’t have limits.
As one teacher told me, “My students aren’t my friends … they’re my students. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about them, it just means there should be limits to how much they know about my private life.”
For parents, keeping children safe isn’t about setting up artificial barriers to contact, it’s about monitoring the actual contact children have on a daily basis – with their friends, with strangers they meet in online gaming forums and … yes … with their teachers. In other words, it’s about the boundaries — and common sense.