Missouri teachers can Facebook without worry.
A Cole County judge has put off until February 2012 the effective date of a law that prohibited private online communication between teachers and students.
The measure was set to take effect Sunday.
Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem granted a 180-day preliminary injunction this morning to the Missouri State Teachers Association, which filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the constitutionality of the measure.
“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,” Beetem wrote. “It is often the primary, if not sole manner, of communications between Plaintiffs and their students.
“The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech.”
In a statement, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, said the law protects students from “sexual predators in our public school classrooms.”
“Unfortunately, while constitutional, a small section of the bill relating to communications policies between students and educators or other school personnel has led to confusion in how it is to be implemented,” Cunningham said in the statement. “We welcome the opportunity to clarify and remove any ambiguity in the law during September’s special session.”
David Moen, a Jefferson City attorney for the teachers’ association, said he suspected the legislature may still go forward with a proposed amendment to the law.
“I suspect in the back of my mind that’s what will happen,” Moen said. “Legally, this should accomplish what we were hoping for our clients.”
Beetem set an Oct. 14 hearing to discuss scheduling in the case.
The case is Missouri State Teachers Association et al v. State of Missouri, 11AC-CC0053.
Check out Monday’s Missouri Lawyers Weekly for an in-depth story exploring the legal issues surrounding the law.