BALTIMORE — The Maryland State Department of Education, Monday, July 1, released a long-anticipated list of health and safety practices for digital device use by children in schools.
The list, which came after a push by parents and lawmakers to protect children against the effects of excessive exposure to device screens, offered several safety suggestions.
The suggestions included implementing device time limits, encouraging students to monitor their postures and maintaining even lighting to “ensure minimal contrast between device screen light and classroom lighting.”
After a Maryland law was passed in May 2018, the MSDE had until July 1, 2019, to produce and make public the list of safety suggestions for local school districts to consider.
The list’s recent release on the MSDE website prompted backlash from some of the law’s supporters, as well as national advocates. They took to social media to share their disapproval.
Cindy Eckard, the Maryland mother who was a leading force in the law’s introduction and passage, called the suggestion list “very buried.” She also said it was “embarrassingly short on readily available research.”
Eckard said the release “could’ve been more responsible, it could’ve been well researched, and it could’ve had some real teeth behind it.”
“It could’ve provided some actual medical underpinnings other than one or another pediatrician sharing what they recommend to their families,” she said. “There are mountains of research studies out there that should’ve been relied on and referenced.”
Eckard continued, calling the MSDE’s work “lackluster” and “not committed,” because the list is missing elements of scientific proof she would’ve liked to see highlighted, she said.
Hearts at Play, a Twitter account run by educational kinesiologists Paul and Gail Dennison, also chimed in, commenting on a labeled graphic the MSDE released showing proper posture recommendations for children while using digital devices.
The educational kinesiologists wrote, in part: “I seriously question whether many adults could adhere to the two standards described here ... How unjust (and silly) to require this of children in their growing years.”
Hearts at Play noted the graphic, which showed a person using a computer at a desk, did not account for varying student “heights, sizes and shapes.”
“What if the chair seat is too low, or too high?” they wrote. “Clearly, rethinking is needed.”
The suggestion list and labeled graphics are accompanied by a 10-minute instructional video, which features educators and medical professionals explaining how to safely use digital devices, as well as the importance of doing so.
The video also promoted awareness of increasing screen use in schools, calling electronic devices a “powerful option” for educational instruction.
The gravity of the health risks associated with children’s use of digital devices in schools has been a point of contentious debate among the affected parties: parents, scientists, medical professionals, teachers and education technology companies, like Microsoft and HP.
Some medical professionals say the negative effects are obvious and undeniable, while some disagree.
Those who disagree point the finger away from digital devices, blaming various other factors for the prevalence of certain symptoms among children, such as dry eye and neck pain.
Scientists charged with providing evidence in either direction have yet to take a side because their research still is developing.
For now, there are no laws regulating digital device use and screen exposure in schools. There are only safety suggestions made available to schools for consideration.
Despite Eckard’s complaints toward the MSDE and the digital device safe practices list, she said the list is “a good first start.”
Most of all, she said the list raises awareness and gives parents a reference to use in holding their children’s school administrators accountable for the facilitation of safe device use.
Eckard said her next move is to ask her commissioners in Queen Anne’s County to stop providing funds for the purchase of unsafe digital devices.
She said she would like to see the county invest in devices with light filters and adjustable settings, instead of in one-size-fits-all “hazardous devices” that pose a higher risk to students’ health.
“You don’t get to damage our children,” Eckard said. “You have forced [digital devices] on a kid and forced that child to put his [or her] own health at risk. That paradigm has to be questioned and changed.”
Maryland is the first state in the nation to pass a law of this kind. But other states are expected to follow its lead, with the encouragement of parents and teachers, as well as other child safety advocates.