By Emma Epperly
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Media literacy and digital citizenship would be the focus of a grant program for Washington school districts.
Senate Bill 5594 was heard by the Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, Wednesday, Feb. 20, and is sponsored by District 21 Senator Marco Liias, D- Lynnwood.
Committee Chair Lisa Wellman was supportive of the bill saying it’s part of the school safety package the legislature has been working on this session.
Wellman cited online bullying and its link to mental health as an important reason to tackle digital citizenship in schools. A study done at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital in New York showed that 20 percent of child and adolescent patients had experienced cyberbullying and that cyberbullying is associated with symptoms of depression, dissociation and anger.
“Being a good digital citizen is really important…how to use the internet well, in a way that respects others and understanding really what you’re doing. What you put out there lasts forever,” said Wellman.
Several school libraries, teachers, and administrators testified in support of the bill, some remotely.
Morgan Larson, a teacher-librarian at Central Valley High School in Spokane Valley, testified on the importance of teaching students how to evaluate the information they find online. Larson called her students “digital natives” who have grown up using the internet but struggle to accurately evaluate the credibility of that information.
“We can teach our digital natives how to be safe and responsible online so that they may grow into productive, informed, civically minded citizens of Washington,” said Larson.
The bill follows a 2016 advisory group in the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction to identify best practices and recommend improvements to media literacy and digital citizenship across the state. The office conducted a 2018 study on these topics and 45 percent of schools said they need improvements in how they prepare their students in media literacy, digital citizenship, and internet safety.
The grant program would help school district leadership teams develop curriculum on media literacy, digital citizenship, or both. These units could be part of social studies, English and language arts, or health and must be available as an open educational resource.
There would also be regional conferences on media literacy and digital citizenship operated by the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction. The conferences would highlight work done by grant recipients.
The grant program could accept gifts, grants, or endowments from either public and private sources. There currently is not an estimate for the cost of the grant program.
The Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction, the Washington State Education Association and the Washington State Board of Education all signed in favor of the bill.