Committees ghost bills requiring social media literacy lessons in public schools

Apps for social media in smartphone
The legislation includes what would be Florida's first legal definition of social media.

With no movement in the House and none for months in the Senate, the future is grim for bipartisan legislation requiring Florida public schools to teach lessons on social media literacy alongside other mandatory curricula.

Less than two weeks remain before the last day of regularly scheduled committee meetings in the 2022 Legislative Session. That leaves little runway for twin bills (SB 480 and HB 361) aimed at safeguarding Florida students from the dangers of social media to clear their respective chambers.

The bills would compel local school boards to design social media literacy lesson plans, make the related instructional materials available online and notify parents of their availability.

The lessons would have been compulsory, like those on African American history, civics, the history of the Holocaust and the effects of alcohol and narcotics, among many other subjects.

The legislation — which includes what would be Florida’s first legal definition of social media — would have led to some additional costs for “school districts that do not already provide social media literacy instruction,” a Senate staff report said.

Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, who carried the legislation in the Senate, said the idea was to help children understand “the long-lasting risks that are inherent with having essentially the world at your fingertips.”

Tampa Democratic Rep. Fentrice Driskell and Jacksonville Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough filed the House bill Oct. 10, three days before the proposal’s introduction in the Senate.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Plantation, Fort Myers Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, Miami Gardens Democratic Rep. Christopher Benjamin and Delray Beach Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg-King co-sponsored the measures.

But only the Legislature’s upper chamber considered the legislation — and only once, on Nov. 30, when the Senate Education Committee unanimously OK’d the bill after a brief discussion and shows of support from the Florida PTA, Florida Citizens Alliance and Defend Florida.

Pensacola Republican Sen. Doug Broxson has yet to add SB 480 to the agenda for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, the second of three committees to which Senate President Wilton Simpson assigned the bill Oct. 21.

Miami Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis never added HB 361 to the agenda of a panel he chairs, the House Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee, the first of four committee assignments House Speaker Chris Sprowls gave the bill Nov. 5.

Aloupis confirmed with Florida Politics that are no additional meetings scheduled for the subcommittee, though “anything could change.”

As the Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday, more than half the 45 bills assigned to the subcommittee went unconsidered this Session.

Aloupis said he believes the issues the HB 361 seeks to address are “hugely important,” but he declined to schedule a hearing because the bill in its current form lacks details on what the social media literacy lessons would entail.

Burgess said in November that he intentionally left the bill language loose to allow the Department of Education and school districts to fine-tune lesson plans as they deem necessary. He envisioned the lessons as being “incorporated in appropriate classes as opposed to creating a whole new class with a whole new teacher that would need to be completely dedicated 100% of the time” to the subject.

“We know (teachers are) pulled in 100 million directions,” he said.

Aloupis contended the legislation is too vague.

“There’s so much required of school districts and what they’re required to provide and create, so it’s just doing it in a way that’s thoughtful and not burdensome,” he said. “But I think there’s a real appreciation in this chamber that there’s a need for this work.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

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