Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, a public school basher through four terms in the House and her first year in the Senate is at it again.
For the third consecutive year, two in the Senate and one in the House, Mrs. Cunningham filed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act.
Riding the publicity two years ago of an Associated Press series that showed Missouri had a large number of reported instances of teachers having inappropriate relations with students, Mrs. Cunningham immediately began hearings designed to push her personal agenda without even taking a close examination of the facts.
One of the reasons Missouri had such a high number of incidents is due to legislation that was enacted about a decade ago which made it mandatory to conduct background checks on those who would work with our children, and remove those who had committed crimes. Missouri's proactive stance enabled it to get some perverts out of the classroom, but its very success opened the door to demagogues like Jane Cunningham.
All that was needed was fine-tuning, but Mrs. Cunningham is brandishing a sledge hammer.
Provide the Highway Patrol with a list of the state's teachers and prospective teachers and make it mandatory that people who commit crimes have their names checked against this registry. That makes sense.
Require training so that other teachers and staff members recognize when an adult is not behaving properly with a student. That makes sense.
Add those provisions to the laws already in place and you have a sensible pro-active policy that will work.
That doesn't satisfy Mrs. Cunningham, who prefers to take the opinion that all teachers are guilty of crimes that only a minute number commit. Teachers are already fingerprinted before they are hired; so Mrs. Cunningham is asking that they be fingerprinted twice. This apparently will thwart evil teachers who have their fingerprints changed to evade the law.
Another part of her bill is one that is particularly irritating:
“Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and parents, or have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”
This, of course, is an attempt to stop teachers from communicating with students through sites such as Facebook and MySpace. I am one of those who has both Facebook and MySpace accounts, and I have students who have added me as a "friend." The opponents of this practice have jumped on the word "friend," but that does not imply an inappropriate friendship with a student. It is simply the term used by those websites. Students have asked me about papers they have been assigned, they have actually submitted papers through the websites, and sometimes they just want to say hi. It keeps the lines of communications open and helps me get through, in a thoroughly professional manner, to some students who may not normally like the idea of talking to a teacher, but are willing to do so through something like MySpace or Facebook, which they consider to be their territory.
My sites, including Facebook, MySpace, my blog, The Turner Report, my YouTube page, and my Journalism Club’s blog, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages are open to the public. Parents, administrators, students, and community members are all welcome to visit. I know of other teachers who maintain social networking sites and accept students as "friends." These are responsible professionals, not lurking perverts, or people who have problems maintaining a proper distance from their students.
MySpace, Facebook, and other such sites are simply a convenient target for Mrs. Cunningham and her ilk. If the legislature takes this step, it is simply taking another slap at teachers, treating the people who have been giving their all for Missouri's children as if they were children.
Of course, there will a predictable quote from Mrs. Cunningham or another supporter of this bill who will say, "If this prevents just one child from being harmed, then it is worth it."
It is hard to argue with that kind of logic...dead wrong though it may be...because your words will be twisted to make it sound as if you are condoning the evil acts that a small handful of teachers have committed.
I cannot recall any cases being reported of Missouri teachers who have used social networking sites to lure children into sexual relations. I can recount numerous cases of teachers who have been able to use such sites to communicate effectively and professionally with students.
If Mrs. Cunningham is successful in bulldozing this bill through the Senate and then the House approves it, what will she try next? People like this are never satisfied with one step. Consider these possibilities:
-Teachers could be prevented from going to movies which might be attended by a younger audience. After all, this would provide ample opportunity for a teacher and student to sneak away during the movie or sit by each other.
-Teachers should not be allowed to live within a certain distance of any house in which underage children are living. Let's cut down the access.
-Teachers must not have listed telephone numbers, since this provides them with unlimited chances to have conversations with young ones.
-Signs need to be placed in teachers' yards warning parents and children that someone Jane Cunningham considers to be unworthy lives only a few feet away.
-Teachers should be required to have special license plates identifying themselves as teachers and offering a special 1-800 number to call if the person who is driving this car ever waves at you or says hello.
At first glance, the last few items seem quite ridiculous, but if you examine the bills that have been proposed in Missouri every year for the past several years, there have been two types of people who have been targeted on a consistent basis- registered sex offenders and teachers.
No matter what Jane Cunningham is trying to insinuate, those terms are not synonymous.
Notes- When Mrs. Cunningham was in the Missouri House of Representatives, she became notorious for sending a letter to Speaker of the House Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, asking to be appointed chairman of the Education Committee. She listed as her main qualification the fact that she had been able to get numerous contributions to House members' campaigns from All Children Matter, the nation's top proponent of educational vouchers. Jetton, according to printed reports, is the target of a grand jury investigating corruption in the state legislature. He is also awaiting trial on a charge of assault involving rough sex with a woman.
Mrs. Cunningham spent one three-year term as a school board member for a public school in the St. Louis area. She failed to get re-elected after numerous attempts to work religion into the district's curriculum.
Amy Hestir, the young woman for whom the bill is named, was the victim of a predator teacher.