Maryland screen time bill moves to hearing

(This post is a slightly modified version of an excellent essay by PAA Board member Deb Mayer, founder of PAA-Oregon.)

Parents Across America (PAA) commends Maryland’s State Delegate Steven J. Arentz and the thirty-two co-sponsors of HB 1110, a proposal to protect Maryland students from the health hazards that medical experts have for many years associated with daily use of digital devices. We thank them for listening to parents and encourage lawmakers across the nation to do the same by introducing similar legislation in their states.

PAA has been raising the alarm about the dangers of excessive screen time for several years. While strongly agreeing that parents must be vigilant about their children’s use of digital devices at home, we have been frustrated by the lack of attention given to the rapid increase of screen time in the classroom, and have challenged the growing pressure by policy makers and vendors to replace significant amounts of teacher time with screen time.

Unfortunately, the National Educational Technology Plan (NETP), released just weeks ago by the U.S. Department of Education, encourages more computer use in the classroom. The NETP, considered the flagship educational technology policy document for the United States, articulates a vision of equity, active use, and collaborative leadership to make everywhere, all-the-time learning possible. However, it makes no mention of any health risks to students, even though the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office has issued safety guidelines that limit screen time, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). But missing from the APP guidelines is the inclusion of school usage of screen devices.

Maryland, a state whose schools consistently rank among the nation’s best, now has an opportunity to address that problem and protect its students. The HB 1110 proposal, which will be heard in the Maryland House at 1:00 pm on March 2, states the following:

Research demonstrates that excessive screen time is linked to a host of negative outcomes for children, including: attention and hyperactivity disorders and social-emotional problems; sleep disturbances and irregular sleep patterns; vision problems, including myopia and dry eye syndrome; and digital addiction.

The bill’s summary explains that HB 1110 would require the State Department of Education, in consultation with the Maryland Department of Health, by June 1, 2019, to develop health and safety guidelines and procedures for the use of digital devices in public school classrooms and, by July 1, 2019, to provide the guidelines and procedures to each county board of education for consideration and adoption; and further would require a county board that decides not to adopt the guidelines and procedures to provide the State Department of Education an explanation of the basis for the decision.

We are pleased that the bill lists PAA as a consulting stakeholder.

Laws are in place to protect youth from alcohol and cigarettes. Children cannot drive cars until they reach the age of consent. But we have been sadly behind the curve in protecting them from the harmful effects of using screen devices. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has had regulations governing the use of computers for office workers since the 1990s, but schools have no medical oversight.

There is widespread agreement among parents, educators, and researchers about the need to provide this protection for children. PAA developed a position paper with multiple supporting fact sheets challenging what we call Ed Tech, and we have been spreading the warning to parents through webinars, blog posts and other social media venues. Teachers have also warned of screen time addiction, 1:1 technology, and other ed-tech dilemmas. Mounting evidence from scientists and researchers supports screen time legislation. There is even support from tech companies. We hope that Maryland’s bill serves as a model for the rest of the nation to show that we are seriously committed to protecting all of our children.

Posted on by Julie Woestehoff Posted in Misc

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