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Can Facebook get teachers fired?

A Missouri public schoolteacher is seeking to stop a state law limiting teachers’ contact with students on social networks, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of protected free speech rights.

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In what critics are calling a violation of free-speech rights, the Missouri legislature passed a law prohibiting teachers from communicating with students via Facebook and other social networks.

Salom-Gomis Sebastien/SIPA/Newscom/File

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A Missouri public schoolteacher is seeking to stop a state law limiting teachers’ contact with students on social networks, calling it unconstitutional and a violation of protected free speech rights.

The prohibitions against online use are part of a broader law seeking to protect children from sexual predators in the classroom.

The law, formally titled the “Amy Hestir Student Protection Act,” was signed by Gov. Jay Nixon July 14 and goes into effect Aug. 28. It forces school districts to draft a policy by Jan. 1, 2012 that, among other protections, prohibits teachers from entering private communication with students and former school-age students via Facebook and other social networks.

In her class action complaint filed in federal court, teacher Christina Thomas is seeking a temporary injunction against the law, saying it violates her free speech rights protected by the first and 14th amendments.

Although the law was intended to guard students against sexual predators, Ms. Thomas says it “is unconstitutionally vague in that it fails to provide people of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct it prohibits, authorizes, or encourages.” She says the law is unnecessarily broad and even puts teachers in jeopardy when using social networks to communicate with their own school-age children.

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