A Missouri circuit court judge has issued a preliminary injunction today, blocking the enforcement of a new law that that would have prohibited Missouri teachers from having "exclusive access" to students via social media. Many educators feared that the law, as written, would have greatly curbed their ability to communicate with students through social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Ning.
Judge Jon Beetem's ruling (PDF) comes just two days before Senate Bill 54 was to go into effect. Today's injunction only blocks the enforcement of the social media aspect of the bill -- something that had become hugely controversial (and confusing) since news broke of its passage earlier this month. The other parts of the bill, those which are supposed to address sexual misconduct in schools, remain in place.
In his ruling, Judge Beetem said that the "breadth of the prohibition is staggering," and he contended that the bill would have a "chilling effect on speech." He cautioned that the wording of the bill could even prohibit communication between family members and their teacher-parents.
He also noted that social media has become an important tool for educators, saying it's "the primary, if not sole manner" of communication between teachers and students.
The Missorui State Teachers Association, along with the ACLU, had sued the state over the legislation, the latter charging that the law violated the First Amendment. Judge Beetem's injunction will be in place for 180 days, or until the state legislature and the teachers can resolve their dispute. Earlier this week, the bill's sponsor, Republican State Senator Jane Cunningham indicated she was willing to clarify some of the bill's language that dealt with social networking, and Missouri's governor Jay Nixon -- who did sign the law into effect -- now says that he'll ask lawmakers to repeal the restrictions.