January 31, 2023
Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Association Delegates Assembly Passes New Resolution on Digital Balance
Families in Maryland’s largest school district combat excessive screen time and learning loss by passing the nation’s first parent-led Digital Balance Resolution.
The Resolution was adopted without amendments at the January 24 meeting of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs Delegates Assembly (which represents 210 schools), and serves as a national model to help reverse the effects screen time can have on learning, attention, physical health, and mental well-being.
The Resolution was inspired by Maryland law HB1110, which mandated Digital Best Practices for the classroom. “Concerns about screens began well before the pandemic, but swelled when virtual learning became compulsory,” said former MCCPTA committee chair Lisa Cline, who drafted the Resolution. “As the district fought to educate students during unprecedented closures, the Resolution lost steam,” she said, “Then, MCCPTA Curriculum and Technology Committees picked it up and ran with it. As we shopped it around, the stories about students ‘tortured’ by sedentary learning told us we had to make this happen.”
A study in JAMA Pediatrics found that adolescents reported spending 7.7 hours a day in front of a screen, double their pre-pandemic estimates. And NWEA found a significant drop in meeting educational goals during the pandemic: 5 million students, grades 3-8, achieved only 70% of reading gains and 50% of math gains.
Evelyn Chung, MCCPTA Curriculum Committee Chair, says, “Most of us have experienced firsthand the impact of digital overload. I heard from so many families who want to bring back interactive, creative, hands-on teaching. The market is flooded with digital products, but they often aren’t the best option to support comprehension and attention. Our Committee strongly advocates for technology education, but that doesn’t mean being in front of screens all day. We need to prioritize education over convenience.”
The Resolution requests the following actions of MCPS:
- Systematically limit screen time in classrooms, unless it provides an educational benefit or supports those receiving services or accommodations.
- Complete and publish MCPS’s own Digital Best Practices begun years ago.
- Monitor screen time and digital resources to ensure they are purposeful, age-appropriate, and academically advantageous.
- Train staff to monitor students for symptoms of excessive screen time.
- Offer offline alternatives that are easily accessible and do not exclude or embarrass the child.
- Select curricula that include up-to-date non-digital materials when possible.
- Develop curriculum guidance that includes physical materials, such as books, outdoor education, and hands-on learning.
- Minimize digital testing, which can be stressful and leads to digital practice.
- Immediately use hard copy resources in elementary schools, discourage screen time and digital gaming as rewards or breaks, and ensure that non-digital puzzles and books are available for free time.
MCPS parent Meredith Salita says, “My son (a senior) watched the vote and said he wished it was done in time for him to benefit, though he is extremely relieved to have one class that doesn’t use videos for content. I want all my kids to break from tech after school but the Chromebook comes out for homework and it feels as if my hands are tied.”
MCCPTA Technology Committee Chair, Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied, agrees: “Parents are distressed by the effects they are seeing from screen overuse, including eye strain, sleep disruption, screen addiction, poor handwriting, attention deficit, and reduced learning outcomes. I’m proud of MCCPTA for taking this on. We don’t have a moment to waste.”
“I commend and thank the committee chairs and volunteers that worked diligently to craft a resolution that MCCPTA overwhelmingly supports,” MCCPTA President Debby Orsak states. “This is a wonderful example of members supporting our mission to advocate for all children.”