Court Blocks Enforcement of Missouri Law Prohibiting Use of Social Media Websites for Teacher-Student Communications

On August 26, 2011, a Missouri state court entered a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of a new Missouri law requiring teachers to refrain from using non-work-related social media websites which allow exclusive access to current and former students. Missouri State Teachers Association v. State of Missouri, Case No. 11AC-CC00553 (Mo. Cir. Ct. Aug. 26, 2011). Among other things, Section 162.069 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, which was signed into law on July 14, 2011, provides that—

Teachers … 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.

The Missouri State Teachers Association sued to block enforcement of Section 162.069. Last Friday, Circuit Judge John E. Beetem entered a preliminary injunction on the ground that the law interferes with the First Amendment rights of teachers. He wrote—

Even if a complete ban on certain forms of communication between  certain individuals could be construed as content-neutral and only a reasonable restriction on “time, place, and manner,” the breadth of the prohibition is staggering. The court finds [th]at based upon the evidence adduced at the preliminary injunction hearing, social networking is used extensively by educators. It is often the primary, if not the sole manner, of communications between the plaintiffs and their students…. The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech…. Given the nature of the right implicated, the reliance of the plaintiffs on social networking technology, and the breadth of the prohibition, the court finds that the public interest is best served by allowing a trial and ruling on the merits before the statute is implemented.

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