FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 6, 2024) — Rep. Josh Bray, R-Mount Vernon, was at a middle school basketball game in his district when a teacher approached him and said, “Man, y’all gotta do something about cell phones.”
Bray said the teacher told him that cell phone usage in the classroom is hard to manage, and school administrators weren’t supportive. The teacher was considering retiring over the issue. That conversation inspired Bray to sponsor House Bill 383. He presented the bill to the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
“It just says each school district has to have a policy that forbids its usage within the classroom during instructional time except during an emergency or if directed by a teacher,” Bray said on the legislation.
HB 383 says cell phone usage could be permitted if needed for a learning experience or an individualized education plan.
Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, is an educator. She said she heard from middle school and high school teachers who support the bill, but they had a few questions.
“Why in the world do we have to do a law to this? And how much of a burden would it then put on teachers to enforce that decision?” Bojanowski said, adding earbuds are also a concern. Many students use wireless earbuds to listen to music or videos in class.
Bray said while most school districts have cell phone policies, this bill would provide extra support.
“When I talked with my superintendents, they were overwhelmingly in support,” Bray said. “And it may not be this way across the state, but the ones I’ve spoken with said most of these decisions are made at the site-based level. They felt like it was important to give them the authority to kind of lay out the policy.”
Enforcement, Bray said, would likely follow current disciplinary policies at the local level. As for the earbud issue, Bray said, “I would be happy to address that.”
Rep. Emily Callaway, R-Louisville, said she is also in support of adding something to the bill to address earbud usage in the classroom. She said HB 383 gives teachers more support to enforce a no-cell phone policy.
“While I don’t like removing power from teachers in the classroom, this also does give them an out to say, ‘Don’t even ask me. This is the way it is, so don’t even ask. There’s not going to be exceptions. This is the law,’” Callaway said.
Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, thanked Bray for the bill. She asked if the Kentucky School Board Association has an opinion on the legislation.
Committee Chair Rep. James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, said he hasn’t heard any negative concerns or pushback from KSBA on HB 383. Tipton said curbing cell phone usage in the classroom should have a positive impact on learning and the social and emotional well-being of students.
Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, said he supports HB 383 and agrees there is a mental health aspect to cell phone usage in teenagers.
“The mental health issue is definitely something that’s on my mind,” Calloway said. “The second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds is suicide. And there are so many things that happen through technology and devices, so I greatly appreciate this legislation.”
The House Education Committee unanimously approved HB 383. It now heads to the full House for consideration.