Media literacy requirements proposed

The Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 20 on a bill that would require Nebraska school districts to incorporate media literacy education into K-12 curriculum.

Sen. Tony Vargas
Sen. Tony Vargas

LB1371, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would require, starting in the 2025-26 school year, that all Nebraska school districts incorporate media literacy into curriculum and instruction for K-12 students. Additionally, starting with the 2027-2028 school year, students would be required to complete at least one three-credit high school media literacy course before graduation.

Under the bill, media literacy instruction would cover topics such as:
● critical thinking and using informative resources;
● knowledge and skills regarding research processes and how information is produced ethically;
● research methods, including accessing peer-reviewed print and digital library resources and primary and secondary sources;
● differences between facts, points of view and opinions; and
● economic, legal and social issues surrounding information use.

LB1371 also would require school districts to provide annual reports on media literacy course progress and other measures to school boards.

Vargas said the state Department of Education updated its English and social studies curriculum in recent years but has not addressed the dramatic increase in student social media use.

Up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 report using at least one social media platform, he said, and 46% describe themselves as “online almost constantly” — a rate that has nearly doubled since 2016. Excessive internet and social media use among young people can result in negative body image and mental health issues, he said, and educating youth about media literacy would give them more control over how they receive and interpret media messages.

“[Students] can learn to be more critical of messages they’re receiving and less critical [of] themselves and each other,” Vargas said.

Rosemary Smith testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Getting Better Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for media literacy. She said the bill’s aim is not to dictate opinions but to help people think critically and evaluate the credibility of information.

“Media literacy empowers students — and people in general — with the skills to think critically and for themselves,” Smith said. “It teaches them how to consume and evaluate information to ask critical questions, avoid online manipulation and to navigate within our complex and ever changing media landscape.”

Representing Civic Nebraska, Heidi Uhing also testified in favor of LB1371. She said misinformation can sway public opinion, create propaganda, undermine trust in reputable sources and sow the seeds of social division.

“Media literacy education provides students with the skills to recognize these tactics, identify credible sources and differentiate between reliable information and falsehoods,” Uhing said. “In doing so, we not only safeguard our democracy, but also foster a more informed and engaged citizenry.”

Testifying in opposition to the proposal was Colby Coash, speaking on behalf of the Nebraska Association of School Boards. He said NASB would prefer that further curriculum changes be adopted through the state Department of Education, which tends to go “more smoothly” than doing so through the legislative process.

Charles Riedesel, speaking on behalf of Schools Taking Action for Nebraska Childrens’ Education, or STANCE, also opposed the measure.

Despite passage of a computer science graduation requirement by the Legislature two years ago, he said, that requirement has not been fully implemented due to insufficient funding and training. Riedesel said teaching students about media literacy is worthwhile, but he expressed concern that LB1371’s curriculum and graduation requirements could encounter the same roadblocks.

“I do not want to see the Media Literacy Act suffer a similar delay,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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