WHAT: Conference Call with Otto Fajen, Legislative Director for Missouri NEA, and Office of Sen. Jane Cunningham
DATE: Tuesday, August 23
TIME: 9:00 a.m.
"School is starting and we want to seek clarity for both teachers and students as quickly as possible", said Missouri NEA President Chris Guinther "When we heard about the varied interpretations of the law, we immediately contacted Senator Cunningham, the original bill sponsor, to propose solutions that could be considered in the September special legislative session."
The controversial legislation bans teachers from using a nonwork-related internet site to gain "exclusive access" with current or former students who are age 18 or younger and have not graduated. Among other things there is concern that teachers who have their own children in class will be limited in communicating privately with their immediate family members.
The law also mandates that by January 2012, school districts pass policies regarding teachers' use of social media and electronic communications such as texting. There is controversy about whether the state or local district policy outlines the parameters for educators' involvement with Facebook and similar sites.
According to a spokesperson for Senator Cunningham, Missouri NEA is the only education organization that has contacted her seeking solutions.
"Clean up bills are sometimes necessary and special session could provide an opportunity for a quick fix." said Otto Fajen, Legislative Director for Missouri NEA. "If the education community and sponsor of the original legislation can find a commonsense solution, we will formally ask the Governor to consider the legislation for a special session.”
All major education groups with a lobbyist at the capitol testified in support of the bill. One teacher group that testified for the bill now claims their leaders did not read the legislation as it was crafted, and has since filed a lawsuit against the State of Missouri.
"We did read the bill," Fajen noted, "and we asked lead legislators to make adjustments to the electronic communication section in question. However, that didn't happen prior to passage. We hope that by acting during the September special session, we'll have a chance to bring clarity to the issue before local school boards are required to adopt policies in January.
When asked about the lawsuit filed by another teacher group, Missouri NEA President Guinther stated that "Trying to fix this problem with a long drawn out court battle that costs the state a lot of money doesn't make sense to us, especially when the bill sponsor is willing to work on a timely solution. We'd rather have that money spent on educating kids. It seems like a waste of state resources."
An FAQ on the bill can be found on the Missouri NEA website at http://bit.ly/n2wu2J.
The 35,000-member MNEA represents teachers, education support professionals, college faculty, retired teachers and students studying to be teachers in school districts and on college campuses throughout the state. It is the Missouri affiliate of the 3.2 million-member NEA.