Bill to eliminate smart devices in Vermont schools hopes to improve student health — but education leaders aren’t so sure

Bill to eliminate smart devices in Vermont schools hopes to improve student health — but education leaders aren’t so sure

Bill to eliminate smart devices in Vermont schools hopes to improve student health — but education leaders aren’t so sure

People using cell phones. Photo courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

The bill would dramatically limit the use of electronic devices, digital platforms and more in all Vermont schools.

BY Holly SullivanCommunity News Service Laura Derriendinger wants to protect Vermont’s children from social media, or as she described it to members of the Senate education committee on Jan. 26, “a toxic rabbit hole.”

“There are class action lawsuits against social media companies on behalf of parents whose children have died as a result of direct product exposure to these various social media outlets,” said Derriendinger, a mother and nurse who serves as a planning commissioner and officer City Health in Middletown. The resources. “While these products have become the norm, what the science is telling us now is that it is not a safe or healthy norm, especially for our children.”

Derriendinger, along with other Rutland-area citizens, recently approached Sen. Terry Williams, R-Rutland, asking for a bill that would limit digital technology in schools.

The result: Williams and other lawmakers introduced S.284, which would dramatically limit the use of electronic devices, digital platforms and more in all Vermont schools. The bill has received testimony at several committee meetings in recent weeks, including from high-profile voices such as Vermont Attorney General Charity Clark.

If passed, the bill would require schools to create policies that prohibit student use of personal smart devices and cell phones, prohibit teachers and school officials from using social media in lessons or for announcements, and allow students to remove refrain from using electronic devices, the Internet and more. .

The latest policies will be developed by district and require schools to offer students alternative activities or teaching methods.

“They’re a great group of young women,” Williams explained in an interview. “Basically, one of them homeschools her kids. And I said, ‘So what are you looking for? Why do you want me to do this?’ (She said), ‘Because I’m homeschooling my kids. I would love to bring them back to school, but I’m concerned about the presence of electronic devices in the school.’”

The legislation, Williams told Community News Service, “is intended to improve school environments, promote mental health and wellness.”

S.284 would require all Vermont schools to create policies that prohibit students from accessing their electronic devices during the school day. A policy could prohibit students from bringing those devices altogether, require students to keep them in a designated location or include placing the devices in lockers or a sealed bag, legislative counsel Beth told St. James to members of the Senate education committee on January 26.

Sen. David Weeks, R-Rutland, another of the bill’s sponsors, clarified that S.284 has exemptions for students using their smart devices for medical purposes. “An example of a medical exception, a student might have a diabetes monitoring app on their phone,” Weeks said via email.

S.284 also provides the option to opt out of technology use at school.

The bill would require all classrooms to have non-digital learning opportunities for their students. If a school fails to make those accommodations — even if that means trying to replicate a YouTube video on paper — the school can be sued under the legislation.

Some of the proposed restrictions sparked debate, though most people who testified at committee meetings agreed with the bill’s focus on better protecting the privacy of children’s data.

Speaking before the committee on Feb. 2, Clark, the state’s attorney general, said she “is supportive of working on this bill and this bill in general.”

Clark, who said she is well versed in social media from her office’s investigative work, detailed components of social media that can distort young people’s mental health, such as the “endless scrolling” of app feeds, ” excessive push notifications” and “like counts.”

To illustrate her concerns about the impact of social media on well-being, Clark outlined a hypothetical: a child struggling with an eating disorder, seeking out content that exacerbates their illness.

“(The algorithm) doesn’t make a moral judgment or a health judgment about (the issue of) ‘This might not be good for you,'” she told committee members. “It just keeps showing that person what they probably shouldn’t be looking at because that’s what they keep obsessing over.”

Jay Nichols, executive director of the Vermont Principals Association, says he understands the negative impact social media has on young minds. As he said on February 2, the association is “on the front lines of the negative impacts of digital addiction to social media.” However, he said he does not support S.284.

“Already, most schools have access to social media and cell phones completely or severely restricted during the school day,” he said. “Providing the mental health resources that students need when they need them is probably a better approach to addressing mental health needs in students than banning cell phones and social media from schools in our view.”

Nichols called the waiver element of the bill unreasonable. He told committee members that providing paper copies of digital materials is “a huge burden on schools and is not necessary,” later saying that “it is not appropriate to allow students to simply choose to learn how to use technology in today’s world”.

Although the principals association supports protecting children’s data and privacy, Nichols doesn’t believe this is the bill to do it, he said.

“Banning (online resources) would only harm the progress of students who will seek work and pursue higher education in our increasingly digital world,” he said.

The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content to local news outlets at no cost.

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