The use of smartphones and other cell phone technology, in most instances, would be banned from public school classrooms under a bill the House Education Committee approved Tuesday.
Only cell phone use during emergencies or “if directed … by a teacher for an instructional purpose” would be allowed under the legislation proposed in House Bill 383. Rep. Josh Bray (R-Mt. Vernon) is the sponsor of the bill, approved with bipartisan committee support.
Bray told the committee Tuesday he filed the bill at the urging of a teacher who is prepared to leave his job because of cell phone overuse at his school.
“The teacher actually said ‘I’m getting ready to retire because I can’t fight it anymore. I don’t feel like I’ve got support from the administration.’ So I filed a bill,” said Bray.
HB 383 would beef up current state law, which requires school districts to develop – not adopt – district-wide policies for the use of cell phones and other personal telecommunications devices at school or school events. The bill would give superintendents more authority to enforce those policies, according to Bray.
He told the committee he crafted the bill to give school districts leeway in handling cell phone incidents. The exception for cell phone use at a teacher’s discretion is part of that, said Bray.
“That might be using cell phones as part of the learning experience, whether it’s scanning QR codes, using it for incentive time, so I thought that was important to include,” he said. Disciplinary action for policy violations is also left up to local authorities in HB 383.
“School systems already have disciplinary policies that follow this so I didn’t think it was important to put in there ‘shall be confiscated’ because those decisions are best made at the local level,” said Bray.
Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville) is a public elementary school teacher and member of the House Education Committee who voted in support of HB 383. Most teachers Bojanowski has talked to about HB 383 say they support the bill “overwhelmingly,” she told the committee before it voted on Tuesday.
“Several people reached out to me and said ‘it’s bad. It’s really bad,” Bojanowski said regarding cell phone use in schools. “I’m in elementary school so we don’t have an issue, and I’m assuming that’s across the board. But middle and high school, it’s across the board.”
In addition to phones, Bojanowski suggested earbuds (like AirPods) be added to prohibited technology during classroom time. A student may not look like they’re on their phone in class, but “they’re totally tuned out,” she said. Bray said he would consider an amendment.
The Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents are aware of the bill and have not responded to it with “any negative pushback or concerns,” HB 383 lead cosponsor and House Education chair Rep. James Tipton (R-Taylorsville) told the committee before it approved of the bill Tuesday.
“They knew this bill was coming,” Tipton told the committee.
Adopting HB 383 would put Kentucky on par with other states that have passed similar legislation, including Florida, according to Tipton.
“Students have lost the ability to communicate with other people because they’re so dependent on technology,” Tipton said before the vote on HB 383. “We have concerns about academic progress because of constant distractions in the classroom. It is a concern.”