Teaching kids 'appropriate online behavior' stirs state mandate debate in Missouri House

JEFFERSON CITY • A group of lawmakers worried about intrusion into public schools by the state sounded off Wednesday night in the Missouri House about a proposal that would require schools to teach fourth graders about "appropriate online behavior."

"The idea that we can succinctly tell students in a short little seminar how to behave, honestly I think is naive," said Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-St. Charles County.

"There's lots of things that we could continually mandate upon on our schools, and I think the more we do that the more we distract them from their fundamental goal, which is education," he said. "Teaching children how to survive? That's the job of the parents."

Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, fired back: "I completely agree. A lot of these things should be up to the family, should be up to the parents. However, in our society, we do not have that foundation in the family. We do not have parents that take on that responsibility, unfortunately. And so who's going to do it?"

"Yes, we don't have time," said Kelley, a former teacher. "Yes, it's one more thing. But you know what? We do it — because it's the best thing for those kids."

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to launch an initiative designed to "increase awareness of appropriate online behavior and skills among students in public schools."

A state advisory council would develop materials for public schools to use. Starting during the 2020-2021 school year, public school teachers would be required to deliver the instruction to all fourth graders. Eighth graders would be offered an optional course.

Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, said he supported the idea, recalling a case he heard about as a member of the Windsor School Board.

"One instance, a kid was suspended 180 days for something he did on social media," he said. "This wasn't a senior. It wasn't an eighth grader. It was a fifth grader who thought he'd be cute and make a statement about somebody else.

"This starts in the fourth grade?" Shaul asked Gannon. "I'm not sure that's early enough."

Rep. Warren Love, R-Osceola, was on the anti-state mandate side, though he said he would probably vote for the bill.

"Just in the last couple of years we've mandated CPR training," Love said. "We've had a bullying policy. Requiring civics. And I don't disagree with these things. But I think our teachers are telling us, 'let us teach and quit mandating these things on us.'"

Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville, raised a point separate from the debate on state mandates. He said companies such as Google <a href="http://nie.post-dispatch.com/%3Ca%20href%3D"https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/15/technology/with-tech-taking-over-in-schools-worries-rise.html?module=inline"">https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/15/technology/with-tech-taking-over-in-s... target="_blank">sell at reduced rates or give products to schools</a>, collecting student data and ultimately profiting from it.

"That's how Google is able to subsidize its Chromebooks," Chipman said. "The schools sell out their kids, essentially."

When the bill reached the Senate, Chipman said, he wanted the chamber to add an amendment allowing instruction on data privacy.

The legislation is House Bill 169.