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Guidance Document Change: The 2020 General Assembly passed House Bill 817 requiring the Department of Education (VDOE), in collaboration with the Department of Health and medical professional societies, to develop and distribute health and safety best practice guidelines for the use of digital devices in public schools no later than the 2021-2022 school year. These guidelines address digital device use for different age ranges and developmental levels, the amount of time spent on digital devices in the classroom and at home, appropriate break frequency from the use of digital devices, and physical positioning as it applies to ergonomics and posture.
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4/26/21  12:21 pm
Commenter: Cindy Eckard /

(HB817) New research: digital device health impacts on kids

Re: HB817 Public schools: use of digital devices

The VA draft guidelines are an excellent first step to protect growing children who are required to use hazardous devices that were never intended for children to use. It would be advisable to review the latest research in this evolving situation, to include concerned parents in the final review process of these draft guidelines and to provide an annual review process to ensure students continue to benefit from the latest research and mitigations, moving forward.

After nearly six years of researching and advocating for state laws to address this issue, and spearheading the first law of this kind to be passed (in Maryland - HB1110, 2018-,  it is fundamentally a huge relief for me to finally see legitimate statewide considerations for mitigating the well-known health impacts that students are enduring because of the schools' demands for digital device use: myopia, obesity, sleep issues, musculoskeletal problems, addiction, headaches, depression, anxiety, dry eye disease and the displacement of advantageous, healthier alternatives - like playing outside, with real friends.

The bad news is that kids have been suffering for years because of the schools' increasing demands for online work. The good news is that we now have significant, reliable research from around the world to help guide us in prevention and mitigation of the serious, potential health impacts.

This guidance is just in from a huge myopia study in Taiwan: screens should more than 30 cm from kids' eyes, their continuous work should be less than 30 minutes at a time, and they need more outdoor time during the day, to avoid myopia and the sight-threatening complications it can introduce.

And this just in from The University of Strasbourg - it is easily one of the most comprehensive overviews of this issue to be found: Child's Health in the Digital Age:

"Results from several studies suggest that this [increased digital device use by children] is likely to engender multiple health risks such as early myopia and blindness [2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10], obesity [11,12], sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression [13,14,15,16,17,18], leading to impaired performance at school and behavioral problems [19,20]. The potential impact of these health risks on our children’s future lives and the well-being of future societies as a whole could be dramatic and public awareness of this problem needs to be fostered in communities as well as on a worldwide scale."

It may be helpful for the members of the committee crafting these guidelines to review this new research to ensure that the measures suggested for Virginia students are based on the latest and best advice from the medical community, so that children in VA schools benefit from the best possible protections.

As we all emerge from the experiences of both COVID lockdown in general and remote learning specifically, new information about the impacts of increased screen use is being revealed. Here is an excellent new overview of those specific impacts, from Regis College in Massachusetts:

What's clear is that Virginia is sincere in its intention to protect its children from these known risks as evidenced by the new law and these draft guidelines. What's also clear is that this is an evolving situation. As such, I would suggest that the revisions to the draft guidelines are completed with the participation of concerned parents, many of whom have shared their well-researched, articulate perspectives on the pages of this Virginia Regulatory Town Hall.

When a child's health and well-being is threatened, it is the right and obligation of parents to get involved. And it is the duty of all school systems to include parents in any discussion about school equipment hazards. So it makes perfect sense to include interested parents on the revisions of these guidelines, and to provide a mechanism for an annual review moving forward, to address health risks as they emerge within an increasingly digitized scholastic experience. 

Many deep thanks to Ann Marie Douglass and Laura Bowman for spearheading this critical effort to protect Virginia's children and to Delegate Hope for his sponsorship and stewardship of this new Virginia law to ensure that the schools' digital devices are prevented from harming students.

Thanks also Michael Bolling and the teams from both the department of education and the department of health who put forth this authentic and comprehensive approach for enhancing kids' health and safety, as directed by the legislation.  Hats off also to Peter Rousselot and Arlington Now, for amplifying the need for parental involvement in this issue, and to the Virginia legislature for providing this wonderful Regulatory Town Hall platform.

Cindy Eckard

CommentID: 97734