Education Committee chairwoman proposes prohibiting teacher-student interaction online

Wednesday, January 30, 2008 | 9:20 p.m. CST; updated 7:02 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Teachers would be restricted from connecting with students on Web sites such as Facebook under a proposal by the House Education Committee chairwoman.

The Education Committee added a section to a bill Wednesday regarding teacher-student interaction on social networking Web sites that parents cannot access.

The umbrella bill, aimed at keeping sexual offenders from teaching in Missouri schools, would prohibit teachers from using a “non-work-related Internet site” to communicate with students where third parties have no access. In other words, parents need to see profiles.

Columbia Public Schools doesn’t currently have any policies specifically addressing student-teacher interaction on social networking Web sites, assistant superintendent Lynn Barnett said.

Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis, committee chairwoman and sponsor of the bill, said its purpose is to protect children from offenders that school administration cannot catch.

“Sexual perpetrators in schools are going from school district to school district,” she said.

Cunningham said the bill, known as the Amy Hestir Davis Student Protection Act, will fill holes in a policy requiring that background checks be conducted before hiring an educator.

“It addresses discrepancies in our background check (policy) that the state auditor’s office pointed out,” she said.

Scott Patrick, assistant superintendent for the Warrensburg Public School District, said Warrensburg schools only do what the FBI requires.

“We are required to fingerprint and perform a criminal background check that people must pass before they’re hired,” Patrick said.

Warrensburg High School provided some inspiration for the bill, Cunningham said, after six female students accused the women’s basketball and softball coach of sexual misconduct.

Patrick said he could not comment on the situation because of ongoing litigation.

The bill would also add second- and third-degree sexual misconduct to a list of offenses barring teachers from earning certification. Cunningham said engaging in sexual activity on school property should also be listed.

Cunningham named the bill after Amy Hestir Davis, a 40-year-old woman who said she was raped by a teacher when she was 14. Davis, now 40, told school administrators of the assault in November when she learned the teacher still taught in Cape Girardeau. Cunningham said the teacher is still employed.

Missourian reporter Eleonora Barak contributed to this report.

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