Thursday, February 16, 2023

Health and safety guidelines for schools' digital devices announced in Louisiana

Children using digital devices are at risk for several impacts to their health, especially myopia, obesity, sleep disruptions and addiction. While social media is currently the focus of politicians and many children's health advocates, many people continue to question the schools' increasing demands for digital device use among growing children. 
New Louisiana law follows Maryland, Virginia and Texas

In 2016, I approached my Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and he agreed to sponsor a bill that would protect students' health from the impacts of the schools' requirements for digital device use. It took two years, but in 2018, the first bill of its kind in the country passed unanimously in both the Maryland House and Senate and the governor signed it into law. Two years after that, using the Maryland law as a guide, Virginia passed the second law, providing health and safety oversight of classroom digital devices. The following year, Faith Colson, a Texas mom who had been following the Maryland legislation, was busy getting a similar one passed in her state as well.

Louisiana becomes 4th state to create health oversight of school devices
The most recent effort in Louisiana, the 4th state to pass a law creating health and safety guidelines for the schools' digital devices, was also the 4th mom-led effort. Dr. Holly Groh, an ophthalmologist, mother of four, and community leader in New Orleans, contacted me to see if we could get a law passed there, similar to the others. It took another two years to get it passed, but the new Louisiana law, sponsored by Representative Aimee Adatto Freeman, continues to improve student protections.

Remote learning impacted children's health, increasing both myopia and obesity, especially. And in Louisiana, where obesity rates were already high, the urgent need to address the health impacts of the schools' devices was made very clear to the General Assembly. The law (HB548) followed a joint resolution (HCR56) that had passed the previous year. 
Students describe their experience in written testimony and art
Louisiana Senate Education Committee testimony for the joint resolution, (which begins 18 minutes into the hearing), was compelling. Two high school students testified and later shared the dramatic artwork they had created independently which illustrated how physically and mentally uncomfortable the daily use of the schools' devices had made them during lockdown.  
One of the students told the Senate Education Committee, "I had to get glasses. And that really worried me... I saw that using a device was affecting me, but I didn't have a choice to not use it 'cause that's where all my school is on." The other said, "I'm just speaking for all teenagers that we want to be heard as well during this time and that our mental and physical health should be taken more into consideration."   

"For my piece titled “Unmasked”, I painted myself.

Artwork by Maren Antee
Underneath where my mask would cover my mouth and nose is slowly disintegrating and melting away from being hidden for so long. My hair is messy and my skin is sickly. I painted blue and different colors into the skin to represent the blue light from all of the technology and Zoom calls we have been on recently. Personally, I have had lots of trouble with the blue screen lights hurting my eyes. My eyes began to be bloodshot day after day from attending online classes, meetings, and simply doing daily homework and studying. During the height of the pandemic, a typical day for school was approximately 7 hours of online classes. Additionally, several days a week, I had meetings after school which lasted 1 hour. Then, I had a Tulane course that lasted 2 hours, and finally about 2 hours of studying and homework each night. This came to a total of 12 hours. However, on my breaks, my source of entertainment was my phone or the TV. This is why I decided to make my eyes closed in a peaceful state whilst in an unfavorable situation. Speaking on behalf of my peers, our mental and physical health wasn’t taken into consideration enough during the height of the pandemic and after. Even now that school is in person, teachers are still assigning homework and classwork online. I’m hoping that my statement and my painting will help you see how we have struggled with the overuse of technology in school." - Maren Antee


Artwork by Laney C.
“I am a high school junior and over this quarantine I’ve had to have a lot of time on my computer to do all my classes. Because of this when I went back to the eye doctor where usually I’m just sent away with “your eyes are fine”, they told me I had nearsightedness and I had to get glasses. That really worried me because, as someone who likes to do art, my eyesight is something that’s really important to me and something I depend on to make art so I was worried by how much using a device was affecting me. I didn’t really have a choice to not use it because my school was online, and now we don’t use paper at school. It’s just all tech. I was tired after school and I just couldn’t focus on stuff when I would just stare at my screen day after day. I think this research could be really important in trying to help in the future.” - Laney C.

Medical experts provide authentic guidance
The most important aspect of the Louisiana law was the establishment of a work group comprised of children's health specialists in a variety of fields, to work with the Louisiana Board of Education and the Department of Health and create a set of medically sound school health and safety guidelines. Experts in eye health, children's vision, sleep, obesity, orthopedics, pulmonology and cardiology all contributed to the dialogue, to ensure that the schools' devices will be used in ways that minimize health risks to the students.

The Louisiana health and safety guidelines created by the work group, were just released. A key recommendation in the new guidelines is the distribution of the digital device manufacturers' health and safety warnings, to help families better understand the health risks of the devices themselves. These warnings are usually not provided to the students or their families when the devices are distributed by schools, even though they are included in the original product packaging. The law further requires annual review of the guidelines, to ensure that the student protections reflect the latest medical insights and research.  
The LA Health and safety recommendations also include:

- increasing recess and time outdoors
- ensuring safe ergonomic configurations of the equipment
- staggering the use of devices throughout the school day to provide scheduled breaks
- setting proper audio levels
- not using devices during recess
- not using devices after dark
- a link to Louisiana's substantial 16-page student privacy guidebook
Additional research

School is the child's workplace, but students have no workplace protections from documented health hazards. Children are forced to use a consumer product - a digital device - with no consumer product protections. The notion that 'recreational' screen use should be limited, while equally hazardous educational use is encouraged is simply craven. Students' health should not be traded for an education. Sedentary behavior is sedentary behavior whatever the setting. Near work on a screen contributes to myopia regardless of the content, and blue light affects children's sleep patterns no matter what they're viewing. "Educational" screen use has been given a pass for far too long. Schools systems - guided by the U.S. Department of Education's Ed Tech plans - never performed any risk analyses on the health impacts to growing children required to use these devices every day.

The myriad health risks children face are actually worse than those facing adults because kids are still growing. Their eyes are still changing and so are their bones and brains. Many of the chronic impacts of daily screen use, such as high myopia and obesity, can introduce lifelong health issues, including glaucoma, diabetes, and heart disease, so prevention of the original conditions is critical. There is good news however: research has shown that simply getting children back outside on the playground can help them avoid many of the health impacts introduced by the schools' demands for more screen use.

But the increased demands for online classwork have displaced recess and outdoor play in many schools, so students are twice denied a healthy learning environment. Unlike social media, students have little or no choice when it comes to the use of school devices. Not only are they required to sit indoors tethered to a screen (increasing sedentary behavior and visual near-work)  but they are also denied the time outdoors that decades of research shows is necessary for the healthy development of their bodies, brains, eyes and vision. They are, essentially, required to hurt their own health, because of the growing demands placed on them from their schools to sit inside and stare at a screen.

Moving forward

There is a simple lesson to be learned from the passage of these laws: schools have been failing in their legal obligation to protect students in their care. Children are now paying the price for this lack of due diligence with their health: obesity and myopia are both now at epidemic proportions while most school systems ignore their duty of care. So legislative action has been needed.

It shouldn't take the passage of laws to get kids protected, but at least now those parents who are motivated to take action have examples they can draw upon, to illustrate the need for health and safety oversight of the schools' equipment. The next state general assemblies will be easier to convince, with this growing list of legislative wins, and sadly, with the growing evidence that children have been negatively impacted.

But if you're not ready to head to the state capitol, perhaps the best place to start is with your own kids - make sure they have a complete dilated eye exam. Make sure they spend more time offline and outside. And ask your school's leadership what steps are being taken to provide healthy and safe practices for your child's use of school equipment.
Cindy Eckard 

Cindy Eckard is a Maryland parent with a technology and communications background who led the effort to create the first health and safety best practices for schools' digital devices in the country (HB1110/CH244).  Maryland passed the law in 2018.  Since then, she has worked with advocates in several other states to pass laws that protect students from these known hazards. Her editorials have appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun , and  Psychology Today. Ms. Eckard's video participation in Screen Time Colorado details the beginning of her efforts. Ms. Eckard's testimony is available in the archives of several Maryland state committees, including the Joint Committee on Information Technology, Cybersecurity and Biotechnology;  House Ways and Means; and the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Ms. Eckard's Twitter account highlights the latest medical research relevant to children's health impacts from the schools' digital devices: @screensandkids

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

FTC Scrutiny of Ed Tech practices is long overdue

The wooing of school district leaders, boards of education and pivotal politicians by the Ed Tech lobby has damaged children's health nationwide and put student data on the auction block. 

Now plagued with epidemic myopia, obesity, anxiety and addiction, all introduced and exacerbated by the schools' demands for nonstop screen use without any regard for the health of growing children, this generation of young people is also being laid bare by the exploitation of their private and student data.

Ed Tech platforms routinely demand sensitive data from students, sometimes requiring it before a student can even use the school resource. What else is a child supposed to do but provide the requested information, especially when the teacher directs the students to do so? The demand for personal data has become so ubiquitous at school, that kids now just hand over private details anytime they're asked to fill out any form for any reason. One platform even asks for students' personal email addresses so that they can 'stay in touch' even after graduation. These practices must end, and federal scrutiny of schools' online practices must begin.

It is now common practice for teachers and schools to collect highly private information without regard to how that data will be used, who can see it, what the implications may be for the child or family, how the students may be tracked, and without consideration for the students' personal or medical privacy. Starting at a very early age, students are instructed to share private information with people who should never have asked for it in the first place. And that includes biometrics in Phys Ed class and after school programs.

Students are poked, prodded and encouraged to share their most personal experiences, feelings, aspirations, college plans, and private family details with total strangers by way of endless school surveys - from the school yearbook staff to state sponsored behavioral research. "Does anyone in your household smoke cigarettes?" "How many siblings to do you have - what are their ages?" "Did either of your parents attend college?" Even the registration forms for public school are soaked in unnecessarily invasive demographic data collection to which families can only submit.

The mishandling of school-based data by local districts, acting as default data-gathering agents for Ed Tech, is long-standing and rarely corrected, even in the face of immense data breaches. Incredibly, the children's full names are often used as their school email log-ins. Their school devices often remain logged in since it's most convenient, making it also easy for someone else to access a child's school account using their device.

Does the school periodically change the students' passwords in keeping with basic security protocols? Never - it would be too cumbersome if kids were forever forgetting their new password. Convenience is prioritized over safety and security every single time, teaching students the very worst safety and security habits.

The school devices are then taken home, giving any person in the household easy access to any student email address in the system by way of the schools' email address book. Older siblings, guests, household workers or weird Uncle Hal could easily use that logged-in device, and have access to all the kids in the school system. What more could a child predator ask for? These practices are utterly reckless and have not been corrected despite the long-standing, obvious vulnerabilities and documented risks to students' safety.

The days of the sacred cow must end when it comes to data collection from Ed Tech platforms and the local school systems that feed them. Working in tandem, both the global Ed Tech corporations and the local schools endanger students' privacy, their families' privacy, and the physical safety of the children, who are put at risk by having their full name, age and home address accessible to bad actors. Parents nationwide find themselves defending their children from the aggressive or oblivious data gathering tactics employed by their own schools, who are supposed to be protecting our children, not putting them in harm's way.

Let's hope that the FTC's current efforts to identify and address these critical student privacy issues is successful, and the exploitation of students by Ed Tech platforms, over-reaching school districts and billion dollar tech industry lobbyists comes to a swift end.

 Cindy Eckard  


Cindy Eckard is a Maryland parent with a technology and communications background who led the effort to create the first health and safety best practices for schools' digital devices in the country (HB1110/CH244).  Maryland passed the law in 2018.  Since then, she has worked with advocates in several other states to pass laws that protect students from these known hazards. Her editorials have appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun , and  Psychology Today. Ms. Eckard's video participation in Screen Time Colorado details the beginning of her efforts. Ms. Eckard's testimony is available in the archives of several Maryland state committees, including the Joint Committee on Information Technology, Cybersecurity and Biotechnology;  House Ways and Means; and the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Ms. Eckard's Twitter account highlights the latest medical research relevant to children's health impacts from the schools' digital devices: @screensandkids


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Will $billions of federal funds for Ed Tech bypass consumer protections?

As the impacts of remote learning during the pandemic lockdown are coming to light, two critical issues have emerged: (1) the disparities of internet access among many students, and (2) the serious, sometimes, irreversible, health impacts that children across the country are experiencing as a result of relentless digital device use, demanded by their schools.

While Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ed Markey have led the funding to address the disparate access to digital technology, they have ignored the health risks introduced by the very devices they are so eager to provide.

A simple amendment to several of the bills they have sponsored or promoted could correct this: any device or connection funded by their legislation must be provided with the health and safety warnings published by the device makers themselves. That little pamphlet that provides fundamental consumer protection information must be distributed to the students and families who have been issued a device by any school system using federal funds.

My letter to Senator Chris Van Hollen:

Below please find my concerns regarding the SUCCESS Act and Emergency Connectivity Fund that the senator is co-sponsoring with Senator Ed Markey and others.

While very well-intentioned, this effort currently ignores decades-long medical evidence that the daily use of digital devices poses myriad health risks with even worse outcomes for vulnerable, growing children. OSHA regulated computer use for adults in 1997. The CAMRA Act was originally introduced in 2007 - 14 years ago - by Joe Lieberman. The health impacts from daily tech use have been a concern for decades.

But today, children are suffering from known hazards, without a single protection from a federal government that consistently funds ever more technology in schools. Although social media and recreational use of screens are cautioned against, somehow the schools' demand for digital device use keeps getting a pass. That's like saying seat belts are required - unless you're driving to school.

I am writing to ask that Senator Van Hollen introduce an amendment to both the SUCCESS Act and the ECF requiring that federal funding for educational technology comes with mandated student health and safety warnings as part of the package. Any school district or state educational entity using these funds should be required to provide to students and their families - at minimum - the health and safety warnings published by the device makers themselves.

If Senator Van Hollen buys a laptop, explicit health and safety warnings are provided in the packaging. But when a student gets a school-issued laptop, that fundamental documentation is withheld. That growing child is required to use a hazardous tool that OSHA regulated for adults decades ago, without any health or safety warnings at all. This is as much a consumer safety issue for students as it is anything else.

Without at least fundamental protections, the accelerated distribution and use of digital devices among growing children will continue to damage them, sometimes, for a lifetime. Myopia and obesity are two of the greatest threats facing students who spend their days sitting and staring into a screen -  made worse by remote learning and by less outdoor play, less recess, and sleep disturbances introduced by the screen's blue light. Disadvantaged kids suffer these impacts more than other groups because they also lack good nutrition and safe places to play outside. Each of these conditions introduces the potential for life-long health issues ranging from glaucoma and diabetes to heart disease and depression.

Maryland, Virginia and Texas have passed health and safety laws
This is a crucial issue with growing public awareness across the country. In 2018, I spearheaded the nation's first law to protect students from the documented health threats posed by the schools' demands for daily device use here in Maryland. I was instrumental in Virginia passing a similar law last year, which led the way for Texas to pass a law protecting students this year. My OpEds have been published in the Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun. You'll find mountains of research throughout my Twitter feed, and on my website, including links to the voluminous health warnings published by device makers HP and Dell.
Senator Van Hollen could lead the nation in making sure that all kids get the technology tools they'll need, along with the health and safety protections they deserve, and are legally owed. I hope you'll contact me with any questions or research inquiries. I have already spoken with Representative Raskin's office about this issue. CAMRA must include a review of health impacts from school devices as well as any other use of screens - students are entitled to a safe classroom, free of known hazards.

A recent report, entitled, Children's Health in the Digital Age  was published in The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It warns that "the health of future generations may be severely compromised if nothing is done to raise public awareness about the necessity for regulatory measures at individual and institutional levels that will effectively prompt children to change and self-monitor their interactions with digital environments wherever possible." 

A simple amendment could raise awareness, introduce safer habits and save this generation of kids from avoidable harm - I hope that Senator Van Hollen will take that important step forward on their behalf.  

Perhaps this information may inspire other Senators or Representatives to take appropriate actions and ensure that students are not harmed by their school-issued devices.

Cindy Eckard

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Making your home workstation safer
for you and your child

Some basic measures could help protect your family from avoidable aches, strains, eye health impacts and sleep disruptions while using the schools' digital devices at home. Some of the following suggestions also relate to the potential for these devices to cause fires. Be careful.

This is not to be construed as medical advice. Consult your device manufacturer for explicit safety warnings and instructions.

However, the following suggestions have been culled over several years from a variety of professional sources identifying a broad number of associated health risks: 

Princeton Univ. (ergonomics; eyestrain)
HP's health & safety warnings
Dell's health and safety warnings
The Sleep Foundation (blue light & sleep)
Johnson & Johnson Vision (myopia)
Prevent Blindness (blue light)
American Heart Assoc.  (kids' screen time)
World Health Org. (gaming disorder)
OSHA/NIH (ergonomics checklist)
Oregon OSHA (improving work spaces)
Cornell University (children's ergonomics)

Hewlett Packard's information is extensive, and includes helpful videos - it's a very good resource.

According to Dell (a Chromebook manufacturer) laptops were never designed to be safe full-time workstations - they require modification to make them ergonomically safer.

1. The screen should be just below eye level. Depending on the height of the user and the relative height of the surface the device is resting on, it's likely you'll need a monitor stand to raise the screen to the proper level.

OSHA/NIH Graphic
This lightweight, inexpensive, adjustable, folding monitor stand can be found on Amazon. It easily adjusts to the height of any user.

2. Once the monitor is raised to the correct height, the keyboard is at an awkward angle, so an external keyboard is recommended, along with a mouse (not a scratchpad).

There are many options available - here is a lightweight, inexpensive external mouse and keyboard.

Now your laptop can be used in a manner that experts suggest might help you and your child avoid discomfort or injury.

1. Sit up straight at a table or desk, with feet flat on the floor
2. Keep arms at 90-degree angle
3. Adjust the device so that the top of the monitor is just below eye level
4. Keep monitor at least 15" from the face
5. To prevent glare, set up workstation perpendicular to windows (remove light sources from directly in front of, or behind, the monitor)
6. Blink. Keep blinking. Remind your kids to blink.
7. Take frequent breaks - stretch, get a drink of water... dance!
8. Turn off devices around sundown
9. Remove all devices from bedrooms at night
10. Consult your device manufacturer's health and safety warning documentation

1. Use devices on laps, or place on beds or cushions
2. Have screen closer than 15" from face
3. Look down at screen, or use device lying down on bed, couch or floor
4. Sit on feet, or sit slouched over device
5. Work for more than 30 minutes without a stretch/water - or dance!- break
6. Stare into monitor without blinking
7. Allow young kids to use devices without supervision, or rely on devices to keep kids occupied
8. Stay on devices - or allow kids to - close to bedtime
9. Put light source in front of or directly behind monitor
10. Allow or require kids to use devices without offering alternatives

As we all face unchartered waters in the coming days and weeks, it's especially important that our children have the benefit of every health and safety protection we can give them.

Cindy Eckard

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Virginia House of Delegates approves
classroom screen  safety bill

UPDATE: Virginia General Assembly has passed HB817, making it the second state to acknowledge the digital device health risks posed to students by their schools, and to require health and safety guidelines.

Arlington, Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope is leading an effort to ensure that students throughout the state are given health and safety protections when using classroom digital devices, long known to pose serious health risks - especially to children.

The Virginia House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved the measure on Friday, Jan. 31, so it moves on to the Senate for consideration in the coming weeks.

The Virginia bill (HB817) is patterned after a Maryland law (HB1110/Ch244) unanimously passed in both the House and Senate in 2018.

Child health advocates are currently working with committed Maryland lawmakers to see that Maryland's effort is authentically implemented - and students get the medically sound classroom protections that the General Assembly mandated.

Let's make sure that Virginia passes this law too, and that the pattern of protecting children from known and avoidable health risks imposed by their schools spreads across the country. Special thanks to all of the advocates who are working so hard to protect Virginia kids - especially Delegate Hope, Laura Bowman and Ann Marie Douglass.

Here is a letter of support provided for the Virginia bill. Updates are posted regularly on Twitter; please follow that account to stay informed.

Cindy Eckard

January 25, 2020
Virginia House Of Delegates
Chairman Hayes
Vice-Chair Ayala
Members, Information Technology, Communications and Innovation Committee

Re: Support for HB817: Public schools; use of digital devices 

Honorable Chairman Hayes, Vice-Chair Ayala and Members of the Committee:

I am writing in support of HB817, to protect Virginia students from known hazards in their classrooms, and ensure that the health of the state's children is not jeopardized by their schools. I led a similar effort in Maryland, which established the first law in the country to provide classroom health and safety best practices for the schools' digital devices.  I hope Virginia will do the same.

Your decision regarding HB817 is a simple one:  protect Virginia children from known health risks at school or allow them to suffer the health impacts posed by the hazardous digital devices they are required to use.

This is a well-documented public health issue, not a curricular debate. Efforts have been made to distinguish 'educational' from 'recreational' use of devices, and 'passive' versus 'active' use of devices. These are unsound arguments. Children suffer from poor ergonomics, vision, eye health and sleep issues regardless of the content. This bill will ensure that children's health is not at risk while they benefit from learning opportunities the devices offer. Virginia students should not have to choose between damaged health and the use of technology.

OSHA regulations are in place for adults who use computers because the health and safety hazards are extremely well documented, and have been since the 1990s. As consumers and employees, you have protections from the hazards posed by these devices; Virginia students have none.

As adults, you're fully grown. Your bones are formed, your brain is formed. Your eyes are fully developed. But children are still growing. They have unique health and safety needs - they are not just small adults. The lenses of your eyes have developed pigmentation that offers some protection from the devices' damaging blue light, giving you a kind of built-in sunglasses.

Children's eyes don't have that yet. The blue light from the schools' devices goes straight to the back of a child's eye, and it's toxic, permanently damaging retinal cells, according to eye health experts. An entire book was just published underscoring the health concerns shared by ophthalmologists and optometrists nationwide surrounding device use.

Thanks to Delegate Delaney, a co-patron of this effort, Virginia has recently passed a law to increase recess in schools. That is simply the very best news imaginable as it relates directly to the schools' demand for children to use digital devices every day. Constant near work on digital devices combined with a lack of outdoor play is the one-two punch that is fueling a worldwide myopia epidemic that experts say will ultimately affect half of the world's population in the next thirty years.

The University of Southern California's landmark myopia study revealed that myopia affects minorities more than anyone else. Due to genetic factors, children of Asian, African-American and Hispanic descent will suffer the most. Recess - just playing outside - has consistently been shown to be an effective myopia prevention. Increased outdoor play will also address the unbridled childhood obesity suffered by so many children, now glued to their screens at school.

Pediatric health experts in every field are sounding the alarm. Spiraling obesity, heart disease and diabetes among children has so alarmed the American Heart Association, that the organization has called for screen use limits, recognizing the serious impact of increased sedentary behavior among kids.

The schools' impact reaches into the children's health at home as well, as students complete their assignments late into the night, crippling good sleep habits. Blue light from the screens suppresses the production of melatonin, the hormone we all need to fall asleep. Sleep is critical to a growing child's health. Children are being misdiagnosed with ADHD simply because they are exhausted.  Sleep disruption is impacting behavioral issues, eye health, weight, and mental health issues. Suicide is now skyrocketing among children and young adults. 

This bill will address these issues, and establish the protections growing children in Virginia need and are legally owed. The Communications Subcommittee took the first step, recognized the urgency of this effort to protect students and recommended that the effort moves forward. Please lead Virginia into a healthy future, protect your children from needless harm, and approve HB817.

Thanks very much for your consideration,

Cindy Eckard

Background Information:

Cindy Eckard is a Maryland parent with a technology and communications background who led the effort to create the first 'health and safety best practices' for schools' digital devices in the country (HB1110/CH244).  Maryland passed the law in 2018. Ms. Eckard's testimony is available in the archives of several Maryland state committees, including the the Joint Committee on Information Technology, Cybersecurity and Biotechnology;  House Ways and Means; and the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Her editorials have appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, Psychology Today, and BAM! Radio network. Television and radio news interviews are linked on her webpage, which also provides extensive medical research regarding the myriad health risks posed to children from daily digital device use and a history of the Maryland law's progression: . Community members can follow Ms. Eckard's Twitter account, which highlights the latest medical research relevant to children's health impacts from the schools' digital devices. @screensandkids