By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - A Missouri judge on Friday blocked a pending state law that would prevent teachers and students from communicating privately over the Internet on social media sites such as Facebook.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem agreed to a request by the Missouri State Teachers Association, issuing a preliminary injunction that stopped the law from taking effect on Sunday.
"The court finds that the statute would have a chilling effect on speech," Beetem said in his ruling.
The law even would have prohibited teachers from communicating with their own children over the Internet if they were students, Beetem noted.
Missouri lawmakers unanimously approved a law last spring intended to limit private teacher-student contacts because of cases where such communications have led to sexual or other improper relationships. In part, the law said teachers and students could only communicate on Internet sites viewable to third parties such as school administrators or the public.
Teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups objected to the law. Teachers said the vast majority of private contacts with students deal strictly with educational matters. An attorney for the teachers association lauded Beetem's injunction, which is in place until February 20, 2012.
"This gives everyone time to debate and discuss the issue to come to a proper resolution rather than rushing to piece together language that doesn't resolve the concerns of educators or allow time for teacher input," Gail McCray, legal counsel for the teachers association, said on Friday.
Meanwhile, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on Friday said he would ask state lawmakers to repeal the parts of the law that restrict Internet contact when they meet next month for a special session aimed mainly at jobs and the economy.
"In a digital world, we must recognize that social media can be an important tool for teaching and learning," Nixon said in a statement, adding that there still must be safeguards.
Todd Fuller, a teachers association spokesman, said there would be no reason to continue their lawsuit if those parts of the law are repealed.
Republican state senator Jane Cunningham has said she is willing to allow amendments to the law so that teachers may communicate with their own children. She has remained firm in her belief that private contacts with other students over the Internet are not advisable.
Teachers can still work effectively with students on Internet sites viewable to others, Cunningham has said.
(Editing by David Bailey and Peter Bohan)