Washington lawmakers recently approved new digital citizenship legislation that's among the first of its kind in the country.
The bill focuses on a new problem in the digital age: teaching kids what constitutes appropriate and responsible use of technology. That includes knowing what to post on social media as well as how to protect yourself online.
"Our students need to be prepared for this online era we're in. The pluses and minuses or it," said Senator Marko Liias, D-Edmonds.
Liias sponsored the legislation at the encouragement of Claire Beach, a retired teacher and longtime media literacy educator from Edmonds.
"This bill is so important because what it allows for is for conversations appropriate to age, appropriate for grade, to start in the classroom," said Beach. "I think it's a real game changer."
Senate Bill 5449 directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to conduct a statewide survey of teachers, librarians, principals, and school technology directors to determine how Washington schools are currently integrating digital citizenship and media literacy education in their curriculum.
"So we're going to survey school districts, find out who's doing what to educate their kids around these issues of digital citizenship and online safety, and then we're going to glean from that the best practices. We're going to find out what are the most innovative, what are the best ways of teaching students these skills," said Liias.
From there, the bill directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a new website to share those resources and best practices with educators throughout the state. The purpose of the website is to provide easy access to information and links for curriculum materials that can be used in their classrooms.
Two recent cases making headlines in our area only highlight the need for more education when it comes to the ethical use of cell phones and social media.
Two members of the University of Washington's men's crew team are under investigation for sexual assault and for allegedly circulating a sexually explicit video of the victim.
On the Eastside, police seized the phones of a group of teenagers, including several Bellevue High School students, after an alleged rape of an 8th grader at a house party.
In both cases, according to court documents, the victims were unaware the cell phone images were taken. That's against the law in Washington.
"Part of it is telling students that story. Telling them that if you're spreading these kinds of images, here's the legal risk you're putting yourself into. I think it's important for young people to know that there are consequences to their behavior," said Liias.
Beach said it's crucial those lessons start at an early age, before kids are even given their first cell phone.
Liias hopes Senate Bill 5449 gives schools the tools they need to teach those lessons.
According to Media Literacy Now, this new legislation is leading the way in the effort to integrate digital citizenship into the classroom curriculum. Many other states are now considering similar legislation modeled after Washington's.
"Hopefully we can help spread the wealth, share this good information, and lead the charge on helping our kids be better prepared for this," said Liias.