IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Proposed Kentucky Law Would Limit Screen Time in K-12

State Sen. Adrienne Southworth said schools should balance teacher-student interaction with digital instruction. Her bill also calls for regulation of third-party ed-tech tools that access student data.

students with laptops
In the Bluegrass State, lawmakers are considering a bill that restricts certain ed-tech tools due to privacy concerns and limits classroom screen time in public schools regardless of educational purpose.

The proposed legislation, SB212, was introduced by state Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R-Lawrenceburg, in late February. As of Thursday, it did not have an Assembly co-sponsor and was referred to the legislative education committee. Southworth said she’s optimistic that a public hearing on it could take place in the coming months leading up to a vote by senators and assembly members.

“There’s been a decent amount of informal discussion about it,” she said Thursday. “It seems like it could solve a lot of problems.”

Regarding student privacy, the law would prohibit schools from entering into an agreement with a third-party provider of digital instructional material or programming “that allows the provider to collect, share, or use student data that is not directly related to the function of the service (classroom instruction).”

As for limits on classroom screen time, which constitutes when a student is looking at a laptop computer or tablet, the maximum would be 30 minutes for kindergarten and first grade, one hour for grades two through four, 90 minutes for grades five through eight, and two hours for students in grades nine through 12, according to the bill.

“The most crucial piece of education is the interaction between an adult and a student. It’s that human experience together,” Southworth said, likening classrooms to homes where busy mothers keep their children occupied for hours with television shows or movies. “We’ve become way too dependent on the computer screens out there.”

Southworth said she is unaware of similar legislation in other states. She began drafting this bill two or three years ago following public school visits in her legislative district, where she observed teachers conducting only brief discussions before students spent most of the morning or afternoon working on their laptops independently. She was troubled by the number of students wearing headphones, the frequency of classroom instruction where teachers just put on a YouTube video of a different instructor explaining something, or the lack of “scratch pads” for working out math problems.

“There are no kinetics there,” Southworth said.

The bill aims to curb the screen time of students, not teachers. The use of learning management systems could be considered both administrative and instructional, Southworth said, and this legislation does not attempt to address that. Screen time enforcement would be a separate discussion, she added, and methods for that could involve random monitoring by administrators, or classroom cameras.

Southworth said the proposed limits by grade level are based on child psychology and development. Classroom instruction for younger students is already designed to conduct learning in shorter increments and keep the children moving more, while high schoolers are more apt to become immersed when focusing on specific topics.

“You’re not going to have a fourth grader watching a 90-minute documentary,” she said.

Southworth said her bill is just introducing a concept at this time, and that the implications it would have on specific software tools and third-party contracts with ed-tech providers would be discussed if and when the legislation advances. Either way, the state senator intends to discuss ongoing student privacy concerns that coincide with the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the classroom.

“AI is collecting information on the patterns of responses,” she said, adding that lawmakers should develop a better understanding of how often students interact with AI, and what types of personal information could be collected. “What is AI deciding about this kid?”

Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) Interim Commissioner Robin Fields Kinney wrote in an email that she recognizes the bill’s intent to protect and enhance student well-being and learning outcomes, but she encourages modifications that would “take into account the diverse needs of learners and the educational potential of emerging digital technologies.”

“Enacting uniform screen-time limits may inadvertently disadvantage students who rely on digital platforms for learning enhancements, especially in underserved communities,” Fields Kinney wrote. “This bill also has the potential to severely limit online and virtual courses, which could impact specialized career and technical education, mathematics and science programs. Students with special educational needs might require more flexible screen-time regulations to accommodate personalized learning aids and assistive technologies. While KDE is always interested in legislation that enhances the student experience, there are many questions as to how this bill would be implemented and its impact on our diverse learners.”
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.