Thursday, February 22, 2018

Press Release:
Landmark legislation will establish safety guidelines for classroom computers 
February 22, 2018

HB1110:  "Public Schools - Health and Safety Guidelines and Procedures - Digital Devices" directs the Maryland State Department of Education, consulting with the Maryland Department of Health to convene a group of medical experts and stakeholders to develop health and safety guidelines for the schools' technology equipment.

Sponsored by Delegate Steven Arentz (R-District 36, Eastern Shore) and 32 co-sponsors - representing statewide bipartisan support - the legislation is in response to the mounting scientific data that underscores the need to protect children from visual, physical and mental health risks posed by the unsafe use of classroom devices.

Delegate Arentz reports, "The research just continues to mount - our kids need to be protected, while they learn how to compete in the world today."

The University of Southern California's Roski Eye Institute has identified the use of screens as a factor contributing to the epidemic myopia now seen among children in the United States. Says lead researcher, Dr. Rohit Varma, "the use of mobile devices and screens on a daily basis, combined with a lack of proper lighting or sunlight, may be the real culprit behind these dramatic increases." Extreme myopia can lead to serious complications later in life, including glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachment and macular degeneration -- all potentially blinding conditions. 

Clinicians are also concerned about dry eye disease, since children do not blink often enough when using screens, in addition to "eye discomfort, fatigue, blurred vision and headaches." Making matters worse, the research shows that because children don't realize anything's wrong, they don't report or mitigate their own discomfort.

Researchers are also concerned about the effects of sleeplessness caused by the use of digital devices, including computers used for homework at night.  The HEV blue light emitted from digital devices suppresses an important hormone called melatonin, which tells the brain it's time to rest.

Without melatonin, kids can't sleep, and, according to the National Sleep Foundation, become agitated and anxious. Their research reports that "adults usually become sluggish when tired while children tend to overcompensate and speed up. For this reason, sleep deprivation is sometimes confused with ADHD in children."

The World Health Organization reports that obesity, diabetes and heart disease in children are also being associated with the increased sedentary behaviors that coincide with unsafe digital device use, noting "the increasingly urbanized and digitalized world offers fewer opportunities for physical activity through healthy play."

Addiction to technology, anxiety and suicide are also grave concerns for clinicians, and the focus of numerous studies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the number 2 cause of death among teenagers today. And while much of those studies concentrate on personal use of computers, schools are increasingly using digital devices as their primary platform for communication, even within the classroom.

As a result of the increasing research, the American Academy of Pediatrics' Maryland Chapter and the Mental Health Association of Maryland as well as the Maryland State Medical Society, (MedChi) representing all of the state's physicians, have all endorsed the legislation, hoping that the General Assembly will heed the medical warnings.

National child advocacy groups are also endorsing HB1110, including Parents Across America and Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood (CCFC), which has more than 800 members in Maryland.

"Maryland lawmakers are leading the nation by protecting children from overuse of digital devices in the classroom. We applaud this initiative and wholeheartedly support this bill," said Josh Golin, CCFC Executive Director, whose organization has just launched the Children’s Screen Time Action Network. The Network will host the first national conference on children’s screen time issues in Boston on April 20-21.

Concerned parents across the state are hopeful that legislators will pass the bill and ensure that their children are using the schools' equipment safely. The legislation has the support of Advocates for Baltimore County Schools and the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County.

Queen Anne's County parent Cindy Eckard, who has spearheaded this effort, has compiled scientific studies and safety warnings from digital device manufacturers on her website, and @screensandkids Twitter account to help educate policy makers, legislators and the public.

"While the debate over the personal use of screens will likely continue as a parenting issue, it is the legal responsibility of the schools and the individual teachers to avoid known hazards and provide a safe classroom. Educational applications pose the same risk to our children's developing eyes and growing bodies as any other content," she says.

"The medical evidence cannot be ignored: our children will be damaged without protections in the classroom."

The hearing for HB1110 is scheduled in the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday, March 2 at 1:00. For more information, contact Delegate Arentz's office at 410-841-3543, or Cindy Eckard:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Maryland students are counting on you to protect them:  

Ask lawmakers to pass HB1110

The hearing on HB1110 "Public Schools - Health and Safety Guidelines and Procedures - Digital Devices" will be held on March 2 at 1:00 in the Ways and Means Committee. 

A letter from you is important, so that lawmakers know how much support this critical legislation has across the state, and beyond, as other states hope to see Maryland establish a model for the country. 

Children must be protected from the known health risks associated with the daily use of digital devices. This bill brings schools, doctors, teachers, children's health experts and parents together to craft safety guidelines to protect our children, now and in the future.

Please remember to put the bill number in your letter and on the subject line and copy these key people: Ways and Means Chair Anne Kaiser; Delegate Eric Luedtke, who heads the Ways and Means education subcommittee; Delegate Steve Arentz, the champion for students who has sponsored this effort; and your delegate(s).

Here is an easy copy/paste of their email addresses:
Here is a General Assembly directory of lawmakers in each county, their committees, and their contact information to help you include your own elected official(s).

Many thanks to all the co-sponsors

It's exciting to have such broad bi-partisan support across the state from 32 delegates who have co-sponsored HB1110. If you would like to include a copy to these caring lawmakers, that would be helpful too. The names in bold indicate House Ways and Means Committee members whose vote on this bill will be essential:

Christopher AdamsCarl AndertonWendell Beitzel, Benjamin Brooks Jason BuckelMark Chang, Jerry Clark, Luke Clippinger,   Joe Cluster,   Paul CordermanEric Ebersole, William Folden, Jeff Ghrist, Shelly Hettleman, Kevin Hornberger, Rick Impallaria, Jay Jacobs, Nicholaus Kipke, Stephen Lafferty, Robbyn Lewis, Brooke Lierman, Johnny Mautz, Pat McDonough, Ric Metzgar, Warren Miller, Edith Patterson, April Rose, Haven Shoemaker, Jimmy Tarlau, David Vogt, Chris West, C.T. Wilson

Thanks very much for your help. If you're short on time, please just call your Delegate and ask to get this bill passed. Children and parents across the country are counting on us to create this blueprint for student safety nationwide. 

We can do this.

Cindy Eckard

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Maryland House Bill 1110:

Health and Safety Guidelines and Procedures - Digital Devices

UPDATE: Hearing will be held on Friday, March 2 at 1pm in the House Ways & Means Committee.  Please see THIS PAGE for testimony instructions.

Please support this important effort in the Maryland General Assembly to get classroom safety guidelines for digital devices crafted and implemented. The visual, physical and psychological risks to our children posed by the schools' devices are a statewide public health issue. This bill offers an excellent solution for protecting Maryland students and is a model for other states.

HB1110 "Health and Safety Guidelines and Procedures - Digital Devices" brings the state department of education (MSDE) together with the health department (MDH) to craft classroom guidelines, based on the advice of a group of stakeholders. That group includes the teachers' union, medical experts, parent groups and child health advocates.

The bill will create a crucial framework of reference for schools, teachers, families and policy makers to ensure that uniform guidelines are in place.This is vital to the protection of Maryland students who will be using the schools' technology tools throughout their educational experience. That prolonged use - from Kindergarten to graduation - poses its own unique medical concerns.

Medical experts need to be involved in order to include clinical data, and to share vital updated information statewide as new research becomes available. Uniform standards will guarantee that all Maryland children are equally protected from the hazards of their school devices regardless of where they live, and that all school communities are benefiting from the latest medical research. 

We have a great deal of momentum already. The bill has 31 co-sponsors, representing broad bi-partisan support statewide and growing national support. We owe Delegate Steve Arentz a huge thank you for sponsoring the bill again. Updates and new research are posted on the Twitter account: @screensandkids. You don't have to be on Twitter to look at the feed; just go to the page, and you can click on the latest news.

The bill will be heard in the House Ways & Means Committee; a hearing date is expected to be announced this week. I hope you'll lend your voices to get this done this year. Please call your representatives, those who have co-sponsored, and those who are on the Committee to show your support.

Let's go save some kids.


Cindy Eckard

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mounting scientific research supports
Maryland Screen Safety Legislation

Legislative agenda meetings are being held right now that will determine the priorities and objectives of the Maryland General Assembly's upcoming session, and the plans of those who wish to influence the lawmakers.

After two years of non-stop efforts, many children's health advocates nationwide are hoping this is the year that Maryland's elected officials will lead the country in protecting students from avoidable physical and psychological harm long known to be associated with daily use of digital devices.

While the debate over the personal use of screens will likely continue as a parenting issue, it is the responsibility of the schools to avoid known hazards and provide a safe classroom. The current digital curriculum in Maryland is not mutually exclusive of safety concerns. Academic goals can still be met, while measures to protect our children's vision, eye health, physical growth and mental wellness can be crafted by the medical professionals who know the most about these issues: the Maryland Department of Health.

The following is a review of the efforts thus far to promote a safe learning environment for all Maryland students, and an extensive list of scientific research underscoring the need for immediate action to protect all of our children.

New research is routinely shared on Twitter; please follow the account to learn more: @screensandkids.

Cindy Eckard

Legislative background, media coverage and support

Paula Poundstone helped promote the Maryland classroom digital device safety proposed bill by enthusiastically participating in a press conference in Annapolis just weeks before the General Assembly convened in 2017. She has lent her voice in support of this effort several times on social media and on her own web page. The NBC News Baltimore affiliate TV station covered the press conference:

This is video taped testimony given to the Maryland Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology & Biotechnology November, 2016; it summarizes the issues and some of the primary challenges facing the legislative effort.

Here is the Press Release and list of legislative sponsors for House Bill 866/Senate Bill1089  from the 2017 Maryland Legislative Session, requiring the Maryland Health Department to craft classroom safety guidelines for digital device use in schools.  It also has links to hearing testimony and radio interviews.

Those who provided written or spoken testimony for MD legislation during the 2017 session included:

Richard Freed, Ph.D., author
Tim Kasser, Ph.D., professor
Susan Linn, Ed.D., Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital
J. Scott Sikes, O.D., pediatric optometrist
Prevent Blindness, Jeff Todd, Chief Operating Officer
Bradley Shear, attorney, advocate
American Academy of Pediatrics, Maryland Chapter
MedChi, Maryland State Medical Association
Parents Across America
Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood
Geoffrey Goodfellow, OD, FAAO, Illinois College of Optometry
Michael Brody, M.D., University of Maryland
Dr. Jared E. Duncan, Maryland pediatric ophthalmologist
Dr. Maria Pribis, OD
Elizabeth Hoge, MD, Georgetown University Medical Center
Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., LCSW-R, author, advocate
Parents Coalition of Montgomery County
Advocates for Baltimore County Schools
Baltimore County Council PTA
Maryland Children's Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council

Specific Searches on Google Scholar regarding digital device health risks to children

Searched only in 2017 for "digital devices computers screens myopia children"

Dry Eyes, Computer Vision Syndrome, Digital Eye Strain

Asthenopia, computer, children

PubMed Results for "Screen Time" search:

Specific Study References

Review of Optometry regarding blue light and Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
"This cumulative and constant exposure to the blue-violet light is going to accumulate over time and has the potential to cause damage to the retinal cells, which is going to slowly lead to retinal cell death and can in turn lead to AMD."

November, 2017: Myopia Rise and Vision Health Issues Left in its Wake

January, 2016, USC: "Study of 9,000 Los Angeles-area children confirms global trend — the incidence of childhood myopia is increasing at an alarming pace"


"Blue light damage to the retina has research support from studies with both acute and chronic exposure."

November, 2017:  Mobile technology dominates school children's IT use in an advantaged school community and is associated with musculoskeletal and vision symptoms.

Rise in Teen Suicides

November, 2017: Increased Suicide Rates Among U.S. Adolescents linked to Screen Time (N=500,000+) Includes extensive citations

Ergonomics issues discussed by Cornell University in the 1990s

1999 Document from Cornell University regarding student computer ergonomics (70 pages):

Overview of Health Risks

Overview of health risks from daily use of digital devices by children
Health Impact of Excessive Screen Time: A Smoldering Crisis for Organizations, by Ernest F. Martin Jr., Virginia Commonwealth University, USA. Scroll to PRINTED Page 88:

Blue light and sleep

Environmental 24-hr Cycles Are Essential for Health:

Attenuation of short wavelengths alters sleep and the ipRGC pupil response:

Decreases in self-reported sleep duration among U.S. adolescents 2009–2015 and association with new media screen time:

Blue Light-Blocking Glasses May Help With Sleep, Cognition

Screen time and sedentary behavior

Re-evaluating the effect of age on physical activity over the lifespan:

Monday, August 21, 2017

Governor Hogan ignores public health issues in Maryland schools

Thanks to Cheri Kiesecker for this graphic
Governor Hogan's administration is turning its back on Maryland students who are currently required to use school-issued digital devices with absolutely no medical oversight, when every day, more research shows that daily use of digital devices will harm children's eyes and growing bodies, and increase the likelihood they will experience serious health issues such as obesity, depression, addiction and diabetes.

Letters have been written to his former Chief of Staff and to Secretary Schrader, which were simply patronized and ignored.

So the following was written in a letter to the governor in May. This effort is supported statewide, as evidenced by the large number of delegates who co-sponsored a bill in the last General Assembly session.

The documented health risks facing Maryland students who are required to use digital devices in school every day are serious; many children will be harmed, needlessly. Any online search will reveal how well known these risks are in the medical community; the research dates back to the 1980s.

For instance, the laptops distributed to Maryland students were never designed to be workstations, as pointed out by the manufacturers themselves who specifically state the devices can cause serious injury. The schools are completely ignoring the health warnings of the manufacturers. OSHA has protected office workers from many of the same health risks since the 1989, but our growing children - who are more vulnerable to permanent damage - have no safety protections whatsoever.

Please take action at your soonest opportunity to ensure that Maryland students will have classroom safety in place when they begin school next year. 

This effort has the full support of the Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi) as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics Maryland Chapter and Prevent Blindness. National leaders in child health issues follow my Twitter account, as do reporters both locally and for the New York Times.  The issue has growing public support, thanks to shows such as Good Morning, America and 20/20 which have run segments as recently as last week regarding digital device health risks to children, teens and adults.

Details, letters of support, and extensive medical research can all be found on my blog: You'll also find television and radio interviews, and links to my Washington Post and Baltimore Sun Op Eds on the site, along with testimony from recent General Assembly hearings.  My most recent article appeared in Psychology Today just last week.

Our children are legally entitled to a safe classroom, and right now they don't have one. They are in danger, specifically because of the unregulated use of hazardous equipment, required by their schools. These are known, documented health risks that are avoidable, and they are not being avoided. There are many people who are now considering legal action, as a result.

I don't believe for a moment that you would allow this situation to continue if you were personally familiar with the details, Governor Hogan, which is why I am appealing to you directly. I sincerely hope I'm correct in this perspective and that you'll take swift action to correct it.

You have known firsthand the sorrow of seeing children who are sick, and the price paid by the entire family as a result. Many diseases cannot be avoided; but harm from school equipment can be.

No Response from the Governor

A Public Information Act (PIA) request for staff emails about the legislation and the disappearance of a School Health web page revealed the worst kind of indifference among the governor's top people, including Health Secretary Schrader's top staff. Doctors in the Health Department did nothing but desperately attempt to escape responsibility.

The Office of School Health director -- a nationally known pediatrician -- suggests in one email that the documented health risks posed by the schools' digital devices are a curricular issue. Not her problem. That's like saying uncapped bottles of bleach stored in a Kindergarten classroom is a housekeeping issue.

At least one Democratic gubernatorial rival has enthusiastically stated support for classroom screen safety guidelines to be crafted by the Maryland Department of Health. Let's hope others will too - especially those on the decisive General Assembly committees - since Governor Hogan appears disinterested in protecting our children.

Let's also hope that legal actions, such as injunctions, won't be necessary to keep Maryland students protected from avoidable harm in their own classrooms. Our kids should not have to suffer before anything is done. 

Cindy Eckard

Friday, June 16, 2017

Maryland Health Department Staff Emails 
Reflect Startling Apathy for Children's Health

It's disturbing to read the callous questions that health department staffers posed to each other when considering the classroom screen safety legislation that was sponsored by over 25 delegates in the most recent Maryland General Assembly session.

House Bill 866 directed the health department to craft digital device safety and health guidelines that would protect Maryland students from known and avoidable health threats that could permanently damage our children.

Ponder that, for a moment. Students are required to use school devices that are known to be hazardous, with no oversight or protection, putting them at unnecessary risk for retinal damage, muscle and joint pain, sleeplessness, obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression and addiction. More concerns are raised about these devices every day, and have been for decades.

The Maryland bill would have protected our kids from avoidable health risks that their schools are imposing on them. This can't be repeated often enough, or loudly enough.

Staff communications obtained through a Public Information Act (PIA) request reveal the attitudes of state health department managers who focused exclusively on their own political advantage, not on our children's health, when considering the MD classroom screen safety legislation.

Getting the PIA request documents has been a struggle. They were not provided within the required 30 days. The files were modified -- headers, names of recipients and emails were deleted before the documents were provided. And top staffers have consistently ignored subsequent requests for complete documentation.

To understand the emails DHMH has provided so far, a lesson is needed to decipher the units of this bloated department. DHMH stands for Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. PHPA stands for the Prevention and Health Promotion Agency. Since PHPA is responsible for environmental health issues, some believe PHPA should craft the classroom screen safety guidelines.

OPHI stands for Office of Public Health Improvement.  The Office of School Health (OSH) is in the OPHI division. Dr. Cheryl De Pinto is the medical director. Tina Backe is the School Health coordinator. NP stands for "No position." And LL stands for legislative liaison.

Here is an email from Ms. Backe asking unnamed staff members (the original header on the email was not provided in the PIA documents) to review the digital device safety bill. She instructs them to keep a number of considerations in mind.

What's missing?
Any mention whatsoever of our children's health.  From the School Health Services Program Coordinator. Not one word.

Now read what Dr. De Pinto writes. It's important to realize that she is a pediatrician, which makes her disregard for our children nothing short of chilling. It's astounding that a pediatrician who has written findings on Maryland childhood obesity for the CDC could wash her hands of our children's health so completely and focus her thoughts exclusively on political bureaucracy. Childhood obesity and its relationship to digital media use is an alarm sounded by major health organizations and universities nationwide. This is a public health issue, not a debate about curriculum.

Even her own colleague questions her position - look at the original email, below. Ms. Backe implies responsibility, and notes that they already write guidelines with the department of education (MSDE).  She asks, "How is it that OPHI is not involved in the creation of these guidelines?"

Excellent question, Ms. Backe.

Sadly there are more emails that show apathy for students from those who are supposed to protect them. This pediatrician, who is a long-standing top manager in the department, desperately tries to dodge any responsibility:

The answer to Dr. De Pinto's question came from the Environmental Health Board director. He requested $100,000 in consultation fees in a letter to the fiscal policy analyst reviewing HB866, claiming this bulging health department, replete with experts, needed to hire an outside consultant to craft digital device safety guidelines for Maryland students.

Details to follow.

Cindy Eckard

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Public Information Act Request Results: 
State officials disregard children's health, seek political expedience

Over 25 Maryland lawmakers recently signed on as sponsors for legislation that would have required the state health department to create common sense guidelines to protect students from being harmed by hazardous school equipment: their digital devices. 

Using computers every day puts kids at risk for a variety of health issues - which has been scientifically documented for decades, by OSHA and other federal agencies. With the help of teachers' union leaders, the bills failed. But it wasn't just those few lawmakers; they had help from the health department, who was working hard to stay out of it, and dodge responsibility.

Since the close of the 

Much has happened since the close of the Maryland General Assembly session. Scientists who were looking into computer ergonomics and vision risks to students 30 years ago have been found. They tell the same story: we tried to stop this, but no one wanted to listen. 

Laptops unsafe as daily workstations

Manufacturers' warnings have been unearthed: laptops were never designed to be daily workstations. Makers like Dell and HP have openly warned against using them as such, and make specific recommendations for exterior keyboards and accessories to be used in order to prevent injury. But schools continue to ignore the manufacturers' warnings, as well as the health warnings voiced by the Maryland State Medical Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics' Maryland Chapter.
National attention to Maryland Legislation

The Maryland legislation has been featured in the media nationwide. BAM! Radio Network aired an interview on the ravages of daily computer use to our children and a Psychology Today article was published, entitled "Growing up in a False Reality." 

But the state health department continues to shirk its duty to protect our kids, who remain at risk for permanent eye damage, joint and muscle pain, addiction, anxiety, obesity and depression. 

Public Information Act request submitted

In response, a Public Information Act (PIA) request was submitted to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to better understand the Department's role in the legislation.

That PIA request was ignored for many weeks, long past the date required by Public Information Act regulations. When the documents were finally received, a profile of utter disregard for children's health emerged from all those involved. 

The staff emails show that they focused on "strategy," what was best for the DHMH staffers themselves, and political posturing. Our children's health? Secondary to their politics. According to one of the top leaders in the department, staffers should ensure screen safety responsibility didn't "land" with their unit.  Details, quotes and email screen shots will be posted here in the coming days.

Waiting to hear from Governor Larry Hogan

The lesson in the legislative process for screen safety is this: no legislation is needed to craft classroom safety guidelines. It is the job of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to protect students against public health threats, and to avoid known risks in the classroom. That's why kids don't play with mercury in science class any more. Turns out the schools were requiring students to put themselves in danger.

We're waiting to hear from Governor Hogan right now. His office is aware of the situation. He must ensure a safe place for our children to learn.

To stay updated, please follow @screensandkids. If you're not on Twitter, you can still visit this page to see what's new: (just click away from the sign-up window).

Cindy Eckard