By Josh Kurtz
A bill that would require the State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Health to develop guidelines that could possibly limit the use of digital devices in public schools is close to death’s door this session.
House Bill 1110, bipartisan legislation sponsored by Del. Steven J. Arentz (R-Queen Anne’s) is bottled up in the House Ways & Means Education Subcommittee. Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), the subcommittee chairman, told Maryland Matters Tuesday that members of the panel are still seeking guidance from the relevant state agencies “about what’s the appropriate response” to the problem of kids spending too much time in front of computer screens during the school day.
“We’re obviously concerned about the health effects,” Luedtke said.
But while he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Arentz bill moving in the final three weeks of this year’s session, Luedtke said the likelier result is that the subcommittee studies the issue further before passing legislation in 2019.
That scenario does not satisfy Cindy Eckard, a Queen Anne’s County parent and founder of the blog www.screensandkids.us, who has spearheaded the statewide campaign to bring awareness to the issue – and push for legislation to limit students’ time in front of computers.
“Why do you stand in the way of children being protected in their own classroom?” she said Tuesday. “For three years the House Ways & Means Committee has been bottling up the bill.”
Armed with an array of studies and statistics showing the potential health damages from too much screen time, Eckard and other advocates for the bill have been beseeching state lawmakers and local school officials not to force students to spend too much time on digital devices.
Eckard said she fears that as state policymakers prepare to debate recommendations from the Kirwan Commission, which is discussing ways to make state funding formulas more equitable, poorer school districts will be providing their students with more computers to use regularly during the school day. Middle class parents are equipped to limit their children’s computer time, Eckard said, but lower-income parents may not be able to do so.
“Obesity and myopia will be introduced into their lives,” she warned.
The bill as currently written would give school districts the option of not adhering to any regulations state agencies promulgate on the use of digital devices by students.