Arlington, VA

Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47) has introduced a bill: HB 817 to guide digital device use in Virginia public schools.

Teachers have been concerned about these issues. Petitions have been generated by community members — one to discontinue 1:1, another seeking a low screen track.

In Maryland, a landmark bill was unanimously passed to create the nation’s 1st health and safety guidelines on school-issued devices, and the Baltimore superintendent was imprisoned for accepting money from the powerful EdTech industry lobby.

Such legislation should be enacted in Virginia because of the impact of digital devices:

Arlington experience

In Arlington, the School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) approved the formation of the Screen Use in Schools Subcommittee (SUS) to advise APS regarding policy implementation for APS-issued devices.

During its research, SHAB discovered that some APS staff were on the advisory board of CoSN (The Consortium of School Networks). Such membership raised serious concerns about undue influence and conflicts of interest regarding what’s best for academic outcomes and the health and well-being of APS students. CoSN membership boasts some of the biggest tech companies in the world, including Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.

While APS parents correctly focus on the total daily time their children spend looking at APS-issued device screens (school and home), CoSN advocates that school screen use is different. See Screens and Kids:

“Shift the conversation. The debate today should not be about “screen time” which made historical sense around the consumption of older, passive technologies, such as television) but “learning time.” When used appropriately technology increases student engagement, helps educators and students accelerate learning, expands opportunities beyond the classroom and enriches the educational environment.”

APS’s screen use policies and practices

APS’s view of screen use simply adopts CoSN’s position:

The phrase “screen time,” as used by academics, refers to using digital media for “entertainment purposes.” Using a digital device for learning is not considered “screen time.”

APS’s view defies common sense. SUS correctly has contested APS’s notion that school screen use should not count in the total daily digital diet of children, just as the food they consume at school counts in their daily caloric intake. SUS’s position finds strong support in an analysis from the National Education Policy Center.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has revised their guidance on screen time. An NIH study aired 60 Minutes, showing “premature thinning of the cortex. That’s the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses for children.”

Children’s brains grow when senses are invigorated and trusting relationships are established. What happens when the visual cortex is over-stimulated with screen use and time spent with teachers and peers is displaced with adaptive software that does not invigorate the other senses (smell, touch, taste, proprioceptive, empathy, etc.)? Research on the effects of blue light on developing eyes keeps mounting. Peer-reviewed research on interacting with screens, no matter the content, establishes an impact on whole-child development, not limited to eye-sight, fine and gross motor skills, cognitive development and psychological well-being.

The Arlington 2019 YRBS (Youth Risk Behavior Survey; p.29) documents that our 5th graders report spending 5.1 hours a day on various forms of screens, and our teens report approximately 10 hours. Our test scores and achievement gap present continuing reasons to be concerned about excessive daily screen use. For subcategories of APS students other than White and Asian, SOL scores are below the Virginia average (p.45).

Conclusion

We should consult OSHA guidelines on computer configurations and body-breaks from sitting in front of a computer interface. The iPad & Laptop manufacture guides of the devices also can provide us with proper use regarding ergonomics and eye-breaks.  Apple user guides offer important safety information, based on FCC testing on adults, since it’s unethical to run experiments on children. Emphasize non-industry funded medical research on the effects of screens on kids.

We are past the research phase of digital devices. We need to help our community thrive and enable our kids to become well-rooted and socially nourished. Limiting total daily screen time is critical, and APS and parents must collaborate on a healthy and academically sound solution.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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