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Judge: Facebook Limits on Teachers Likely Unconstitutional

A state judge has issued an injunction blocking a Missouri law that would have barred teachers from communicating with students over websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Judge Jon E. Beetem of Cole County Circuit Court said the law likely violates the First Amendment. The measure, which was to take effect Aug. 28, would have prohibited teachers from using non-work-related websites that allow exclusive access with students.

"The breadth of the prohibition is staggering," Judge Beetem said in his Aug. 26 decision in Missouri State Teachers Association v. Missouri. "The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech."

The teachers' union filed a lawsuit challenging the social-networking prohibition, which was passed this year as part of a larger bill designed to protect children from sexual abuse in schools. The judge's injunction does not affect the law's other provisions.

Judge Beetem found that social networking is used "extensively" by educators, and the Missouri measure could even bar communications between teachers and their own children. The injunction says that teachers who engage in social networking with students may not be disciplined, even if the court order is later overturned.

The Associated Press reports here that another union, the Missouri National Education Association, has been trying to work with legislators to revise the law, but that any such changes are not likely before the Missouri legislature's next regular session in January.

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