MSTA wins injunction on Senate Bill 54

A circuit court hearing in Cole County, Missouri, has awarded the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) a preliminary injunction in its legal case against the recently passed Missouri Senate Bill 54. In an update on its website on Aug. 26, the MSTA confirmed Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem approved MSTA’s request for an injunction of section 162.069 of SB 54.

As a result, the section, which included the controversial ban on student-teacher interaction on “non-work related” and social networking sites, will not be enforced until Feb. 20, 2012, or as soon as the court reaches a final verdict on the case. For now, teachers in Missouri cannot be disciplined or punished for using non-work related social media.

“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,” said Judge Beetem in his official order for the injunction. “The court finds that the public interest is best served by allowing a trial and ruling on the merits before the statute is implemented.”

The news is welcomed by the MSTA, which recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Missouri claiming that the bill – specifically, section 162.069 – was a violation of teachers’ right to free speech.

“This is exactly what [the MSTA] was looking for,” said Aurora Meyer, a representative for the organization. The 180-day injunction will allow the MSTA to cooperate with the Missouri courts to set up formal hearings to reach a final decision on the legitimacy of the law.

“This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn’t resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input,” said Gail McCray, MSTA Legal Counsel.

While the ruling spurs progress towards further development and clarification of the law, it has presented challenges to the school district in meeting state requirements. The district’s standing policy on social networking sites dictates that teachers cannot use personal accounts for personal correspondence with non-family students; that electronic communication must be limited to discussion pertaining to curriculum and extra-curricular activities; and that at no point can employees violate the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

“[FHSD] will still be required to develop a social media policy as defined in [Senate Bill 54],” said Chief Human Resource Officer Dr. Steve Griggs. “It is very possible that changes to our current [policy] will be made.”