This is the second attempt by Mrs. Cunningham to steer the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act through the legislature. She also made an unsuccessful attempt during her final year in the House. The legislation is one of a series of bills filed by Mrs. Cunningham, all of which have the intent of weakening public education, something which she has been trying to do since she was unable to get her way during a three-year stint on a public school board of education.
I wrote this about the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act in the Dec. 22 Turner Report:
Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, has taken her brand of public school bashing from the House to the Senate.
On Monday, the first day of pre-filing 2009 legislation, Mrs. Cunningham filed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, the same bill which she unsuccessfully tried to navigate through the House in 2008.
It is the latest in a long series of attacks Mrs. Cunningham has made on public education since she attained elective office. Riding the publicity of an Associated Press article 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 a 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.
She has added to her bill, something that was not included in its original form last year, but which was added as an amendment, reportedly at her request, during a session of the Education Committee, of which she was the chairman. This time it is in the bill from the outset:
. 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, 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, whether it be this one, the Facebook site, the MySpace site or my collection of Room 210 sites, 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 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.
SB 41, termed the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, is nothing of the kind. The bill is named for a student whose case fell through the cracks, something which should never happen. It does little or nothing to prevent such a situation from ever happening again. All it offers is a slap in the face to the thousands of Missouri teachers who protect students every day.
I will soon be addressing more bills filed by Mrs. Cunningham that reek of her anti-public school agenda.