DeSantis forbids phone, TikTok use in schools

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed several education bills, including one prohibiting cell phone use during class time and restricting the use of TikTok to prevent Chinese surveillance. The education measures come at a time of increasing concern over the security risks associated with the social media app’s Chinese ownership. DeSantis signed a bill on Monday that bars access to TikTok on state-owned wireless networks, and the new education law will prevent students from using the app on devices owned by school districts and through district-provided internet access.

The education bill also seeks to limit students’ use of cell phones and other wireless devices during instructional periods, except when explicitly directed by a teacher for educational purposes. Teachers will be required to designate areas for device use during class, and the legislation aims to rein in the use of social media in schools, as DeSantis stated, “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.”

In addition to the social media measure, DeSantis signed another bill creating a “Teachers’ Bill of Rights,” enabling teachers to challenge certain directives from school district officials and administrators. If a teacher is directed to violate state law or State Board of Education rules, they may request that the state education commissioner appoint special magistrates to settle the dispute, with the districts footing the bill. Districts found in violation of laws or state board rules would have the salaries of district superintendents withheld until the violation is corrected.

The new legislation also includes an eight-year term limit for school-board members, bringing the board’s term limits in line with those imposed on other Florida political leaders. The measure imposes shorter term limits than the previous 12-year limit.

State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. expressed excitement to implement the changes made by the governor, stating, “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.”

DeSantis explained that the legislation aims to protect teachers who are simply following state law and prevent school district officials from pressuring teachers to challenge said laws. “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, well, that’s not the way this system works,” noted DeSantis.

Overall, the education measures aim to protect and support both teachers and students, creating a safe environment for modern-day learning and limiting the potential risks associated with social media and Chinese surveillance. The measures will take effect in July.

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