The Washington state Senate concurred with the House-passed media literacy bill by a vote of 47-0 last week. We are very pleased with the outcome of the legislative process in Washington, which has been a positive and collaborative effort among policymakers, educators and advocates.

Media Literacy Now has been working with Action for Media Education president Claire Beach for several years on policy strategies, and we are delighted to have helped Beach and her team to see this process through.

There is, however, one more hurdle. The bill requires the governor’s signature to become law. Currently, due to budgetary battles, the governor is holding off on signing bills and has vetoed some that have a financial impact. We expect that the bill will ultimately go into effect.

What the legislation does

This legislation sets up a structure and process for a community dialogue to approach the challenges of education in the 21st century at a time of rapid change in technology and the media it delivers.

The bill requires the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop best practices and recommendations for instruction in digital citizenship, internet safety, and media literacy. Best practices and recommendations must include education on how to apply critical thinking skills when consuming and producing information. The OSPI must then report to the legislature on strategies to ensure school districts are implementing these best practices and recommendations.

The bill requires OSPI to convene an advisory committee that includes digital citizenship and media literacy experts, teacher-librarians; and others members of the community including parents.

School districts are directed to review annually their policies and procedures on electronic resources and internet safety with students, parents, educators and media literacy experts, using the OSPI best practices and recommendations as a guideline.

Digital citizenship defined

This bill includes a groundbreaking definition of digital citizenship that encompasses digital and media literacy.

The bill’s definition of digital citizenship includes the norms of appropriate, responsible, and healthy behavior related to current technology use, including digital and media literacy, ethics, etiquette, and security. The term also includes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, develop, produce, and interpret media, as well as internet safety and cyberbullying prevention and response.

The emphasis on cyberbullying prevention reflects the view of Media Literacy Now that we must address the root causes of the problem within social media, in order to enhance the positive uses of these powerful tools.

How it happened

Beach and her team, in consultation with Media Literacy Now, presented sample legislation to Sen. Marko Liias, including a recently passed Utah bill that likewise sets up a structure for community dialogue. Liias, along with other legislators and staff, worked with Beach and other education stakeholders to write a bill that was modeled on the Utah bill and took advantage of the path that Utah had created for media literacy policy. With passage of the Washington bill, momentum is building for education policy change that encompasses the skills we all will need as we enter this new and exciting technology and information age.

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