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DeSantis shelves cell phones, TikTok in schools

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

By Ryan Dailey

News Service of Florida

May 9, 2023

TALLAHASSEE — Saying that social media does “more harm than good,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed education changes that include prohibiting students from using cell phones during class time and curtailing use of the social-media platform TikTok on school grounds.

Also, DeSantis signed bills creating a “Teachers’ Bill of Rights” and imposing eight-year term limits on school-board members.

The social-media measure (HB 379) prohibits the use of TikTok on devices owned by school districts and through internet access provided by districts.

The governor signed another bill Monday that, in part, bars access to TikTok on state-owned wireless networks. The new laws come amid a national debate about security concerns over the widely popular app because of its Chinese ownership.

“We are also making sure that things like TikTok, which is monitored by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), that it’s not something that they are being able to use district servers or Wi-Fi to be able to access,” DeSantis said Tuesday at a Miami charter school, where he signed the education bills.

The law, which will take effect in July, also seeks to prevent students from using cell phones and other wireless devices during “instructional time.” Under the measure, cell phones could not be used during lessons unless “expressly directed by a teacher solely for educational purposes.”

Teachers also will be directed to designate areas for the devices during class. DeSantis described the social-media measure as “reining in the use” of the technology in schools.

“Being normal kids, like kids were prior to social media, is important. The social media (causes) more problems than it solves, and I think it causes more harm than good. So, let's have our education system be as much about traditional education as we can,” DeSantis said.

Another bill signed Tuesday (HB 1035) spells out various rights of teachers, including a right to “control and discipline” students.

The law says that teachers, “except in cases of excessive force or cruel and unusual punishment, may not be held civilly or criminally liable for actions carried out in conformity with State Board of Education rules.”

The measure also includes a process in which teachers could challenge certain directives from school districts or school administrators. Teachers who are directed to violate state law or State Board of Education rules could request that the state education commissioner appoint special magistrates to handle such disputes — with the districts footing the bill. The magistrates would in turn recommend a “decision for resolution” to the state board.

Districts found in violation of laws or state board rules would be subject to having the salaries of district superintendents withheld “until the violation is corrected.”

State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. told the crowd at Tuesday’s bill-signing event that he is “incredibly excited to implement” the changes signed by the governor.

“Teachers should walk into the classroom every day knowing that they are respected, and if they have to intervene, not be worried about their jobs to keep the safety of their kids. And also, (they should) be able to comply with state laws without having a rogue school board or administration trying to get back at them,” Diaz said.

DeSantis, who has clashed with some school boards over issues such as mask requirements aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, said the measure would ensure that teachers are “protected.”

“If all they (teachers) are doing is following state law, then they are protected. What happens is sometimes there is a school board, or an administrator or superintendent doesn’t like something the state of Florida has done. They may not want their teachers to follow that,” DeSantis said. “Well, that’s not the way this system works.”

School-board members in Florida also will face shorter term limits under another bill signed by the governor.

The legislation (HB 477) will impose eight-year term limits, after lawmakers and DeSantis last year approved a measure that capped members’ terms at 12 years. The governor’s office said the shortened terms will bring school boards “in line with the governor, Cabinet and entire Legislature.”

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