by McKenna Horsley, Kentucky Lantern
February 6, 2024
FRANKFORT — Legislation prohibiting Kentucky public school students from using their cell phones during class is a step closer to becoming law.
The House Education Committee gave bipartisan approval Tuesday to House Bill 383, which would require local school boards to adopt policies banning students from using cell phones during “instructional time.” A few committee members noted that while they were in favor of preventing students from using their devices during class, it might be easier said than done.
Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, said the bill should be implemented but it may be challenging for teachers to implement for some students.
“This is not going to be as easy as it sounds. Kids are very addicted to their phones,” Riley said. “In fact, in many ways, this is going to be a bloody bath for teachers to have to deal with. It’s just another difficult thing they’re going to have to deal with because it’s bad.” Rep. Josh Bray
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, said enacting the legislation would give teachers and school administrators more authority to prevent cell phones from being used in class. He added that he has spoken with school administrators about the bill in his district.
“It gives the teacher the support in the classroom, because now the administration kind of has to have their back. And it gives the administration support because they’ve kind of got to go down this path now.”
The bill would require every local board of education to adopt a policy to at a minimum prevent students from using cell phones during class “except during an emergency or if directed to do so by a teacher for an instructional purpose.” Other states, including Florida and Tennessee, have passed similar laws.
Bray noted some Kentucky school districts already have policies in place limiting students’ cell phone use. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 77% of school districts across the country prohibited non-academic use of cell phones in 2020.
Rep. James Tipton, a Taylorsville Republican who is a co-sponsor of Bray’s bill and the chairman of the House Education committee, said the bill addresses multiple issues, including communication between students, fostering academic progress and students’ mental health being negatively impacted by social media.
While the science is not completely settled, experts are concerned that adolescent brains are vulnerable to what they see on social media platforms. Last week, U.S. senators reprimanded social media executives in a committee hearing and called for more actions to shield youth from damaging content online.
Tipton said he discussed the legislation with representatives of the Kentucky School Boards Association and Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. Neither group gave him “negative pushback or concerns.”
Two Democrats on the committee, Reps.Tina Bojanowski and Lisa Willner, did raise the question of why a law is needed for school districts to prevent cell phone use. They ultimately voted to move the bill forward.
“We can’t teach kids that are distracted, and so that’s kind of the thinking behind it,” Bray said.
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