In her zeal to save the Facebook portion of her Amy Hestir Davis Student Protection Act, Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, keeps hammering relentlessly on the idea that children have to be protected from all teachers:
"A lot of sexual relationships start with the most innocent text message: 'How do I do this math problem?' or 'I'm going to be late for practice,'" said Cunningham.
It apparently has never occurred to Mrs. Cunningham that more than 99 percent of the messages that begin with "How do I do this math problem?" end with help on how to do the math problem.
In the paranoid paradise in which Mrs. Cunningham exists, there is no possibility that a conversation that starts with "I'm going to be late to practice," almost always ends with a response like "OK."
So to stop the minuscule percentage of teachers who bring shame to all of us, Mrs. Cunningham's Facebook Bill stops all outside communication between teachers and students. The bill has also been interpreted to ban phone messages, texting, and e-mail. A Cole County Circuit Court judge granted an injunction against SB 54 Friday, stopped the bill from going into effect Sunday. Gov. Jay Nixon has asked the legislature to remove the social networking portion of the bill when it meets in special session next month.
And that is exactly what the legislature should do.
It is time to scrap the entire social networking portion of SB 54 and replace it with some measures that might actually help achieve the goal Mrs. Cunningham says she wants -- to protect Missouri children.
Though Missouri took strong steps toward getting predators out of the classroom in the mid-90s, we continue to have teachers who cross the line with students receiving slaps on the wrist thanks to prosecuting attorneys and judges who don't take the crimes seriously. Stiffen the penalties for these violations and enforce them.
Mandate training for teachers in responsibly using social networking sites and other communications with students and also the signs to look for when fellow faculty members may be abusing their positions.
Make absolutely sure that students receive training in what is improper online or offline conduct, not just from classroom teachers, but from all adults.
Teachers should be held accountable for their online behavior and that is not just for sexual transgressions with students. We also have an obligation to maintain professional standards. If we fail to live up to those standards, there should be consequences.
These can come, however, without the necessity of Mrs. Cunningham's full frontal assault on the First Amendment rights of teachers and students. What Mrs. Cunningham continues to do with the outlandish statements she keeps making in response to criticism of her bill is the process that she began when she filed the legislation in the first place -- planting the idea that all teachers should be feared as potential perverts. And this comes at a time when Missouri's children, and the children across this nation, desperately need the positive role models that hard working, dedicated teachers can provide.
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