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