SPRINGFIELD — All high schools in Illinois would be required to offer instruction on how to understand and evaluate news and social media as part of their introductory computer classes under a bill that was introduced to a Senate committee on Tuesday.
Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, argued before the Senate Education Committee that the bill was necessary because of the vast changes in the media landscape that have occurred in recent years.
“In the digital age, the internet has become the primary public space,” she said. “Young people consume, create and share information through digital media. They debate and discuss social, political and civic issues in online spaces. They are also vulnerable to persecution and misinformation.
During January’s lame duck session, lawmakers passed an education reform bill backed by the Illinois Black Legislative Caucus that aimed to improve racial and ethnic equity in education. The bill, which Governor JB Pritzker signed into law in March, called for all schools to provide “developmentally appropriate” computer education.
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Villa said House Bill 234 would add to that requirement by including “media literacy” in the definition of computer literacy, starting in the 2022-23 school year.
According to the bill, this would include instructions on accessing information on various platforms; analyze and evaluate media messages; create their own media messages; and social responsibility and good citizenship.
But Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, questioned how objective schools can be in teaching students how to evaluate news by separating factual information from “fake news.”
“What is fake news and what is not,” she asked.
Villa replied that teachers are trained in how to teach students how to use media and that the difference between fake news and real news is the same as the difference between fiction and non-fiction.
“So the teachers themselves would decide what is fake news, according to their own opinion,” Bryant asked.
She asked hypothetically what would happen if a district decided CNN anchor Anderson Cooper was a liar. “They could basically say that anything Anderson Cooper says is fake news,” Bryant said.
Villa, however, said the instruction would simply be designed to teach students how to check information in a news story to assess for themselves what is accurate and what is not.
The bill was defeated by the committee by a 7-2 vote and is now heading to the Senate floor. It has already passed the House, 68-44, on March 20.
Isolation and restraint
The committee also introduced a bill that would require the Illinois State Board of Education to adopt rules to significantly reduce the use of time-outs, isolated time-outs, and physical restraints in all public schools and non-public special education establishments.
It’s a problem lawmakers tried to address during January’s lame duck session, when a bill passed the Senate unanimously but stalled in the House.
The State Board of Education passed rules in 2020 that aimed to phase out the use of seclusion and prone or face-down restraints by July of this year. House Bill 219, which passed the House, 113-0, on March 22, would effectively give the state board another two full years, until the 2023-2024 school year, to phase out these practices.
Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate, acknowledged that the extension has created some opposition to the bill. She said she plans to make further changes to the bill before it goes to a final vote, including shortening the transition period so that it takes effect in the 2022-23 school year.
The use of isolation and restraint in school settings has long been criticized by advocates for students with disabilities.
Cheryl Jansen, director of public policy at disability rights organization Equip for Equality, said the practice of physical restraints in particular has proven to be dangerous, even deadly in some situations. She said restraint was used disproportionately on students with disabilities, and a disproportionate share of those students were black or Latino.
Guy Stephens, who leads a group called Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, said he became active in efforts to ban the practices after his autistic son was traumatized by the use of seclusion and restraint at school.
“Belly restraint is dangerous. This can lead to serious trauma and significant injury to students, teachers and staff,” he said. “While school staff sometimes signal that they need restraint to keep everyone safe, the data tells a different story. Whenever restraint and isolation are used, there is an increased likelihood of injury, so students and teachers are more likely to be injured while using restraint.
The bill passed out of committee on a 13-to-1 vote, with Gillespie’s assurance that she would bring it back to committee after amending it in the Senate.