Monday, April 10, 2017

Through the Looking Glass
The MD General Assembly and
Classroom Screen Safety:
A study of disturbing nonsense

For student health advocates across the state and across the country, watching the developments surrounding the nation's first classroom digital device safety legislation during the recent Maryland General Assembly was a surreal, Alice in Wonderland kind of experience.

Just the idea that parents would have to take their case to the state legislature, to protect their children from serious harm caused by their teachers and schools is a bizarre concept. Aren't teachers supposed to be caring, nurturing people who protect children? And yet, their silence is deafening, even after learning of the myopia, retinal damage, sleeplessness, muscle pain, eye strain, anxiety, depression and addiction associated with daily use of digital devices in school.

Perhaps they are silenced by a craven shadow government, the Maryland State Department of Education, that consumes the lion's share of any budget, and then arrogantly dismisses the people who pay their salaries, while utterly disregarding the medical needs of the growing children whom they are paid to serve.

A culture of fear

Bloated and self-satisfied, state and local school boards and the crony political groups who shape them dole out mandates without a single thought to the health of our kids, and then - according to what teachers say privately - intimidate any staff member or teacher who doesn't get onboard.

Worried about their performance reviews and professional futures, teachers then dutifully strap our children to computers every day. Exactly how many hours are kids online at school? The schools won't say.  All that technology, all that data crunching, and nobody can generate a valid screen time report. Fascinating.

Catching up with reality, let's remember parents are paying the taxes and sending the kids to school, where students are legally owed a safe learning environment. In return, our children are being systematically neglected in the pursuit of political agendas put forth by school boards and school bureaucrats at every level.  With the full participation of their teachers.

What is going on here? Chase the white rabbit. Drink me.

Certainly the health department will do something to protect our children, 
since the schools won't.

And so emerged the Maryland classroom digital device safety legislation: HB866/SB1089.

The bill directed the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to create safety guidelines to protect our children from being harmed in a variety of ways from daily classroom use of school-issued electronic devices. The Maryland State Medical Society (MedChi) and the American Academy of Pedicatrics' Maryland Chapter (MDAAP) whole-heartedly endorsed the bills and warned lawmakers of the serious health risks facing our kids.

With the medical community backing this effort, surely the legislators would listen. And of course, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would leap to defend our kids from being harmed. That's what they do, right? Protect kids from health hazards?

But wait. There's a Cheshire cat. And a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

DHMH removed the web page that revealed its responsibilities 

Once the DHMH Office of School Health was publicly revealed in testimony and letters to lawmakers to be already responsible for crafting the digital device safety guidelines, things started to disappear from the DHMH Office of School Health website. The smoking gun - the page that outlined their responsibility - was pulled offline.

And when the cached version of that smoking gun was then posted on www.screensandkids.us, it was pulled off the server altogether, so the public could have absolutely no web access detailing the DHMH Office of School Health obligations to protect our kids and draft safety guidelines.

But Alice liked to read. She knew many techy things, and posted the full Office of School Health page online once again, making sure that the public could still see the disappearing pages, and know who was purposely hiding their responsibility to protect Maryland's children.

The white rabbit dashes by. The schools are hurting our kids and they don't care. Are we still in America? The health department is supposed to protect them and doesn't care either. Are the flowers talking?

MSDE mislead Senate EHEA Committee, 
claiming plans for digital device safety

Meanwhile, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) wrote a fictional account for the Senate Committee hearing the bill, claiming they have plans to address the digital device safety issues themselves. They lied. They don't. They later admitted it.

"If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't.”

The House Ways and Means Committee conveniently sat on the House bill, leaving it up to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee (EHEA) to vote down the Senate version. Ponder, for a moment.  The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee refused to protect Maryland students from avoidable health hazards in the classroom that would have cost the state nothing.

Zero dollars, and kids protected from permanent, avoidable harm. But... no.

OSHA has protected office workers from many of the same health hazards since the 1990s. But our kids? Nothing. The bill died, along with hopes for any medical protection for Maryland students.

Who did this? Jesters of the Queen, politicians who made hollow references to nonsensical objects. "Couldn't this cost the state extra money in furniture?" asked one delegate, trying to sound "thoughtful." "What about cell phones at lunch and in between classes?" wailed a Senator as if the schools were now issuing cell phones.

But who exactly is the Red Queen? There was no authentic opposition to the bill. And those who voiced "concerns" had no sound reasoning, especially in light of the serious health risks to children, as verified by the state's medical community.

Whose invisible hands, then, 
strangled this critical legislation to protect our kids?

Is the state school system so aggressive and feared that nothing and no one can interrupt its singular goal to strap our children to computers all day? Or is the health department so determined to avoid responsibility for protecting students they will do anything to stop the bill? Is it both of them, working together?

Or is it the teachers' union, who took "no position" on the legislation? The only lawmakers who balked at the bill are staunch teachers' union supporters; one of them is even a teachers' union employee. Another union-supported EHEA Committee member tweeted out enthusiasm for the bill during the hearing, but then voted against it. Was she "educated" during the meeting?

If that's the case, teachers might want to check with their own union rep to see just who got thrown under the bus this year, along with our children. Did your union even mention this classroom safety legislation? Do Maryland teachers know that they can be sued by parents if a child is damaged by a known harm that should have been avoided? Look up your "Duty of Care," and then reconsider the screen time you impose every day on our children.

But perhaps the invisible hands came from even higher sources.

The state's pediatricians and medical society agree that students will be harmed by unregulated daily use of the tools that the school system is requiring our children to use. This very simple bill did nothing but put medical oversight on the relentless use of school-issued equipment that has been recognized to be hazardous for decades. Someone in leadership could have made this bill go through. No one did.

As a result, Maryland students have been abandoned by nearly every state agency, school employee and elected official in the state of Maryland. Apathy and lunacy have ruled the day.

And while this General Assembly session was certainly nightmarish, it wasn't all a dream - many more people are now aware of the health risks facing Maryland students and will continue to pursue classroom safety guidelines.

Many people stood up for our kids

Delegate Steven J. Arentz
There were many heroes in this effort. Delegate Steve Arentz sponsored the House bill and rallied 26 co-sponsors. Twenty-six, bi-partisan sponsors from one side of the state to the other. Quite a feat, and very well done. Thank you to those co-sponsors. And thank you, Delegate Arentz. Your commitment to Maryland students is unquestionable. You are a hero for our children.

Gene Ransom and his team at MedChi saved the day, and came to the defense of our children.  Heroes. The MD chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, heroes, recognizing screen safety needs in the the classroom for the very first time.

More heroes: Senator Jim Brochin and Senator Susan Lee who stood up for kids and co-sponsored the Senate bill sponsored by Senator Steve Hershey. Thank you. And thank you to Senators Ron Young, Johnny Ray Salling, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, and Bryan Simonaire who all voted for the bill in the Senate EHEA Committee. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And there were many supporters across the state, and nationwide. Thank you, Parents Coalition of Montgomery County, Advocates for Baltimore County Schools, Baltimore County PTA Council, Campaign for Commercial-free Childhood, Prevent Blindness, Parents Across America, and national child advocates Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, Cheri Keisecker, Roxana Marachi, and Rae Pica. And a very special thank you to the incomparable Paula Poundstone and Rams Head Tavern for participating in a press conference to raise public awareness about screen safety.

Thank you to all the parents, professors, authors, child development experts and eye specialists who wrote and testified as well, including Dr. Geoffrey Goodfellow, Dr. Scott Sikes, Dr. Maria Pribis and especially Dr. Jared Duncan.

Yes, there was a great deal of support.

Where do we go from here?

Now it is up to the parents to roll up their sleeves, get a full account of the screen time required by their schools, monitor their children's online school activities, and put every single person who is responsible for their children's protection on notice.

We are parents, taxpayers and voters. We won't forget who abandoned our children and enabled them to be in harm's way. Maryland's elected officials, teachers, administrators, school boards, departments of education and health departments will now all be held accountable for their legal duty to protect our kids, since those responsible have clearly abandoned their ethical and moral obligations to do so.

Cindy Eckard
@screensandkids


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Maryland State Department of Education
now says screen safety is "inferred"

On March 15, 2017 the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) knowingly provided misinformation to the Senate EHE Committee in its testimony regarding SB1089, claiming that Department has plans to address the health risks posed to our children by classroom digital devices.

In its letter to the Senators (see full letter, below), MSDE testified that screen time health issues are part of its draft ESSA document.


When pressed, however, the Department now says that screen time issues are "inferred" in the ESSA draft and offers only the following reference to classroom screen time:
  1. Develop guidelines/policies related to digital content that ensures accessibility and encourages personalized learning, prepare students for College and Career, and promote academic achievement and digital literacy. August 2017 State 
  2. Provide models of best practice for the use of technology in daily instruction and encourage the use of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment (MISA) Practice Tests. 
This is unacceptable and insufficient. Our children are legally owed a safe classroom environment.  Maryland's entire medical community, including the American Academy of Pediatrics Maryland Chapter and MedChi has endorsed HB866 and SB1089, underscoring the urgency of this legislation to protect children of all ages from being SERIOUSLY AND UNNECESSARILY HARMED by the schools' hazardous equipment in a variety of ways, from myopia and permanent retinal damage to depression, sleeplessness and addiction.

The schools can't and won't protect our children. They are not medically qualified.  The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is hiding from their School Health responsibilities now too. (See below.)

We must have medical oversight for the medical hazards facing our children, introduced by the use of school-issued equipment.

Call or email Delegate Luedtke's office (410-841-3110) or contact him @EricLuedtke. Ask him to find a way to get HB866 passed, and back over to the Senate.

Each day, this legislation becomes more and more important.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Thank goodness for Google cache. 

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Office of School Health web page that outlines its responsibility for classroom screen safety is still available to the public: http://bit.ly/2mR0N6F

Oh, no! Now that's missing too?
It's okay. We saved it here




Despite what DHMH tried to say:




On March 10, 2017, members of the House and Senate Committees considering SB1089/HB866 were told of the DHMH responsibility for screen safety guidelines, as identified on the DHMH Office of School Health web page. But that page has disappeared.

Dear Delegate Kaiser, Senator Carter Conway,

The classroom screen safety bill (HB866/SB1089 "Primary and Secondary Education - Health and Safety Guidelines and Procedures - Digital Devices") now being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee will be heard by the Senate EHEA Committee next Wednesday, March 15. This bill directs DHMH to create safety and health guidelines to address the serious health risks facing Maryland students, now that the children are using digital devices in school every day.

OSHA has protected adults from many of the same health hazards posed by computer equipment for decades; doctors are quick to point out that the risks are more serious for growing children. Maryland students using digital devices in school every day now face increased myopia, permanent retinal damage, dry eye disease, headaches, sleeplessness, obesity, anxiety, addiction and more.

Drafting classroom safety guidelines is already DHMH's responsibility as part of its School Health program. This is made clear on the Department's School Health web page: http://pophealth.dhmh.maryland.gov/pages/School-Health.aspx

Responsibilities of the Office of School Health include:
⦁    To develop policies, procedures, and programs to meet the health and health related needs of school aged children


This bill simply directs DHMH to craft guidelines for classroom digital device use specifically, because the school equipment poses serious medical risks to children, requiring professional medical oversight.

MedChi and the American Academy of Pediatrics' Md. Chapter (MDAAP) endorse this legislation, recognizing "there is a growing body of evidence that there are serious potential health risks for children associated with excessive use of digital devices," and that "it is critical that health and safety guidelines be developed to ensure that those risks are accounted for in the use of digital devices in the classrooms."

The medical community also underscores the need for consistent, statewide guidelines from DHMH and notes that "legitimately, the local jurisdictions don't have the time or expertise to put a framework together."

The Children's Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council (CEHPAC) also endorses this legislation, recognizing that Maryland's children need to be medically protected from known health hazards. Children's advocates nationwide are anxiously hoping for its passage, as a blueprint for their own states.

With 26 co-sponsors from across the state for HB866 , and both Baltimore County and Montgomery County Senators co-sponsoring SB1089, this legislation has broad bi-partisan support. The Fiscal Policy Note reports that the bill will not cost anything.

More technology is becoming increasingly accessible to more and younger Maryland students, so it is critically important to direct the state's medical experts to protect them from avoidable harm. I hope you will help to ensure this effort is successful.

Thank you very much for your consideration,

Cindy Eckard
www.screensandkids.us
@screensandkids

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Here's what the Senate EHEA Committee saw before a majority voted SB1089 down.  Thanks to Senators Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, Johnny Ray Salling, Bryan Simonaire and Ron Young for protecting our kids from being harmed in school.


video


Montgomery County Attorney questions MSDE claims regarding safe use of digital devices. MSDE letter regarding SB1089, is below.

Dear Ms. Gable,

According to Tiffany Johnson Clark, Esq., the MSDE draft of Maryland's ESSA Plan addresses issues surrounding the amount of screen time that public school students will have on digital devices.  In my review of THE DRAFT DOCUMENT, I have not been able to find the specific section that addresses the amount of screen time that students should be on digital devices while in public school classrooms.  Can you please assist me in locating the section of the draft that speaks to this issue?

We believe that this representation from Ms. Clark has been used to influence the votes of members of the Maryland legislature on a bill that seeks to address this very issue.  In an effort to provide the legislature with accurate information, we would like to have the specific citation to where the issue of digital device screen time in public school classrooms is addressed in the draft ESSA Plan.

Thank you for your expert assistance.

Janis Zink Sartucci, Esq.
Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, MD

FROM THE SB1089 HEARING FILE

The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) believes there is little proof of harm to our children as a result of using digital devices in school every day. This, despite the entire medical community underscoring serious medical risks. Both the Maryland State Medical Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics Maryland chapter strongly support this bill.

Read on... written by the chief ed tech proponent in the school system... signed by the MSDE legislative representative.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Senate EHE Committee votes down screen safety bill, putting Maryland students at risk for blindness from school equipment

Thank you Senators Nathan-Pulliam, Young, Salling and Simonaire for voting to protect our kids. Perhaps the others will reconsider? 





March 17, 2017

Dear Delegate Arentz and Co-sponsors of HB866,

Last night the Senate EHE committee voted down SB1089, the cross filed bill for HB866, which directs DHMH to do its job, and create safety guidelines to protect our children from hazardous school equipment, as part of its Office of School Health. A simple, no-cost request that our children do not suffer from permanent damage from using devices that are unsafe.

The Committee voted it down last night, following Wednesday's hearing wherein the Senators saw a very informative video, received favorable oral testimony from a pediatric ophthalmologist and the American Academy of Pediatrics Maryland chapter, all of which underscored the urgency of this effort.


Piles of letters were received by the Committee in support as well, outlining all the risks our children face because of unregulated use of devices in school. Experts from around the country in a variety of specialties from optometry to psychiatry weighed in, alongside some of Maryland's largest parent coalitions.


Please do everything within your power today to persuade your colleagues in the Ways and Means Committee to favorably review HB866. A social media campaign was launched before dawn this morning among parents across the state, and across the country.

Whosoever knowingly harms a child will be held responsible.


Thanks very much for your help,

Cindy Eckard
@screensandkids
www.screensandkids.us

Monday, March 6, 2017

Watch the VIDEO of Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Hearing, held Wednesday, March 15th. Testimony for SB1089 begins at 2:02:02. 

This is the video the lawmakers saw during the Senate hearing for SB1089 on Wednesday, March 15th.

LEARN MORE about the MEDICAL RISKS facing students. 

The Maryland State Medical Society and the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics endorse screen safety bills HB866 and SB1089: 


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Start writing and calling now! Senate Educational, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee will hear companion legislation, Senate Bill 1089, on March 15th at 1:00.

Teachers and Moms are speaking out!

For the HB866 Ways and Means Committee Hearing, Feb. 24, 2017:

My name is Erica Mah, a parent with 2 children in Baltimore County Public Schools.  I am sorry that I am unable to be there in person to give testimony in favor of HB 866 which I wholeheartedly support.  

But I have an obligation Friday afternoon and evening to my daughter’s school’s Literature Night where we celebrate favorite books - a most worth cause I am sure you’d all agree.  We celebrate books that children may have read on paper or on screen or even listen to as an audiobook.  Children are now able to access books in so many ways because of technology and in my opinion more access to books is always better.

But reading books using technology, and using technology at all, needs to be done with guidance.  Students should not listen to devices at a volume setting of 100 while using headsets (yes, 100 is the maximum).  Students should not read on a screen in a darkened classroom.  Nor should they read in font that is smaller than 12 points.  Or read slouched over a desk or with their eyes up as close as 6 inches to the screen.  Or play games while they are supposed to be reading, extending their time on the screen with flashing lights and animation.

But these are all things I have seen children do in classrooms using their BCPS issued devices.  These are issues I have asked BCPS to address, in particular to elementary school children as young as 6 who now have their own devices.  

Despite the massive rollout of devices to our young children, BCPS does not have health and safety guidelines for their devices.  Nothing about limiting the amount of screen time.  Nothing about protecting students’ vision or about font sizes.  Nothing about hearing and volume level.  Nothing about posture.  

That is why I am writing in support of HB 866. Because we need to educate our children with technology.  But we need to do this as we do everything for our children - with care and with their safety and health as the top priority.  Do I want my children to be familiar with technology?  Absolutely.  But do I want schools to do this at risk of my children’s vision and hearing and brain development?  Absolutely not.  

Please vote yes on HB 866 and thank you for asking schools to set guidelines to protect our children.

Sincerely,
Erica Mah
Parent, Hillcrest Elementary School and Catonsville MIddle School
Catonsville
Baltimore County, Maryland

..................................................

Dear Chairmen Kaiser and Carter Conway,

The bills you are considering (HB866/SB1089) that will engage medical professionals in setting safety guidelines in Maryland classrooms are very important to me. I hope you will pass them. 

As a twice-tenured fifteen year veteran teacher at the elementary level in NY, I have seen the damaging effects of screens firsthand. Having stepped out of the classroom for 8 years to take care of my own children, I was shocked at what I discovered when I returned to teaching.

They are not the same children that I had once taught before screens entered the classroom. I get through less curriculum, see less critical thinking skills and have children who are stressed, tired and zoned out.

And sure enough, when I inquire about it, it seems that all roads lead to violent video games or allegedly "educational" screen time that seems to be wasted time. I implore you to pass this bill. I would love to help initiate similar legislation here in NY. The time has come for the medical community to ensure that our children are truly safe from this inundation of digital devices.

Sincerely,
Luz Rojas Kardaras
3rd Grade Teacher 
Southampton Elementary School
Southampton, NY
 
WJZ-TV coverage of House Bill 866 Hearing Ways and Means Committee, Feb. 24, 2017



Video: Hearing testimony on House Bill 866 
(With many thanks to a terrific General Assembly IT guy.)



Testimony letter for HB866: "Primary and Secondary Education - Health and Safety Guidelines and Procedures - Digital Devices"

House Ways and Means Committee Hearing
February 24, 2017
House Bill 866: SUPPORT

Chairman Kaiser, Vice Chair Turner, Members of the Committee:

Thank you for hearing this bill today.  I'd also like to thank those members who have co-sponsored House Bill 866: Delegates Eric Ebersole, April Rose, Haven Shoemaker and Jimmy Tarlau.

They have joined Delegate Arentz - our hero - making a total of 26 members of the House of Delegates, representing nearly every county, to safeguard Maryland's students from well-documented, avoidable harm posed by school equipment.

The health risks associated with digital devices have been known for decades. OSHA regulated computer monitors for adults back in the 1990s. Having enjoyed a cutting-edge technology career, I have known about these issues for years. That's why I was shocked to learn that Maryland has no safety guidelines for digital device use among growing children.

Scientific evidence mounts each day underscoring the need for professional medical guidance to ensure the safety of our kids. Myopia has doubled in our country. Scientists assure us that the blue light emmitted from the screens is permanently damaging students' vision, especially the youngest ones. Neck pain, blurry vision, dry eyes, headaches, sleeplessness, obesity, anxiety, depression and addiction are all documented side effects of students who use digital devices every day.

You can review the specific studies and references on www.screensandkids.us. Or you can heed the advice of the Maryland State Medical Society, MedChi, whose members -- all of them doctors -- agree that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene must get involved to protect our kids and establish safety and health guidelines for our classrooms.

What's key about the involvement of DHMH is that department's role within the scientific and medical community.  DHMH is uniquely qualified to monitor new peer-reviewed data, trends, and evolving approaches to screen safety.  They have access to the vast array of specialty practitioners whose expertise is direly needed: optometrists, ophthalmologists, ergonomic experts, environmental health experts, and psychologists.

Teachers and school administrators should heave a large sigh of relief over this bill, knowing that they are no longer left to figure this all out for themselves. They are not doctors, but they are nonetheless legally responsible for the safety of the children in their care.  The unsafe use of equipment that harms our children is not a small legal consideration.

Best of all, HB866 is free of charge. Legislative services reports in its Fiscal Policy Note that there is no cost associated with the passage of this bill.  Students are protected from permanent harm, teachers are protected from additional liability, and it's free.

Please pass this common sense, critical bill and protect the health of all Maryland children as they master the skills they will need to be successful.

Thanks very much,

Cindy Eckard

www.screensandkids.us
@screensandkids