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.

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Cindy Eckard