First day of school
Monday: East Allen County Schools
Tuesday: Fort Wayne Community and Southwest Allen County schools
Wednesday: Northwest Allen County Schools
Like thousands of other parents in Allen County, Jaret Wieland sends his children to a school district that has embraced electronic devices such as tablets.
The school-issued technology is used in the classroom as well as at home, including when inclement weather prompts an e-learning day, Wieland said.
This educational-related screen time has led Wieland and others to a realization: they are the first generation of parents facing concerns – including health effects and access to inappropriate content – related to this widespread adoption of one-to-one technology amid advice from medical professionals to limit screen time.
As public schools in Allen County begin the 2019-20 academic year this week, a member of the Parkview Research Center said it's understandable parents are raising concerns about the effects of technology integrated in education.
“Parents are right to start to question this,” said Michelle Drouin of the Informatics Team at Parkview Research Center. She added the educational technology “was rolled out without a lot of research.”
Statewide, more students in Indiana attend one-to-one technology districts – where each student is assigned a device, such as a tablet or laptop computer – than they did even three years ago.
An annual survey about school districts' technology plans shows 79% of districts offered one-to-one technology in at least some grade levels in 2019 compared to 63% in 2016, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
Locally, the one-to-one status is districtwide for East Allen, Northwest Allen and Southwest Allen county schools but only K-5 for Fort Wayne Community Schools, according to the 2019 survey. A few FWCS middle and high schools will be one-to-one this academic year, district spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.
Elementary students at FWCS don't necessarily have unlimited access to their assigned devices, Stockman added.
When students can take the devices home varies. Students can begin taking them home in kindergarten at NACS and SACS and in fourth grade at EACS. The units stay at school at FWCS, according to the recent technology survey.
Jeanine Kleber, a SACS elementary school principal, said students use the electronics to produce something rather than consume something.
“It's intentional, and it's very short,” Kleber said of how the devices are used at school.
EACS described the tablets as another classroom tool.
“The iPad and its use is a resource among many resources as a part of our blended learning model of classroom instruction, which is designed to find a balance between technology tools and traditional best practices of classroom instruction,” EACS said in a statement.
Monitoring how much screen time children are getting has become easier with built-in trackers on the devices. The hours logged during the school day is concerning, even if the total included minutes when students had the device on but weren't looking at the screen, multiple parents with children in EACS said. They noted it was common to see the tablets were in use at least four hours.
“They're using it for everything,” parent Sarah Stoller said. “That's what it appears to me.”
When Andy Schnipke's oldest daughter complained of headaches last school year, he wondered whether the EACS-issued iPads were to blame. Her twin brother's vision also worsened, Schnipke said, adding the optometrist asked how much screen time the boy was getting.
Constant near vision from screen time, computers and even books can progress to more nearsightedness, Fort Wayne optometrist Nicolas Soulier said.
Over the last 15 years, he said, he has noticed a shift among his patients.
Before, he said, prescriptions were usually stable for those 18 to 21 years old, but that age group is now experiencing more vision changes between annual appointments.
“There's definitely something going on with screen time, for sure,” Soulier said.
Just as it isn't wise to exercise four hours without a break, Soulier recommends people take frequent breaks from the devices, such as looking away from the screens for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Holding reading materials 18 to 24 inches away from the face also helps, he said.
“It's about creating good habits,” Soulier said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen use to an hour per day of high-quality programs for ages 2 to 5. For children 6 and older, the organization advises parents to consistently limit time spent using media and ensure media doesn't replace adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
The guidelines for older children likely are purposely lenient because of the expectation students will get exposed to screens during school and through homework, Drouin said.
The substitution of healthy activities – including interaction with other children – is what concerns pediatricians about screen time, said Dr. Tony GiaQuinta, president of the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
GiaQuinta says he wouldn't want children to replace traditional recess at school with playtime on a tablet, for example.
“My general perspective is that screens in themselves are not dangerous,” said GiaQuinta, also of Parkview Physicians Group.
He recommends families create a media use plan so children and parents have shared expectations about screen time. Families may go to www. HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan for guidance.
Although districts may filter the type of content students can access on their devices and block students from using certain programs – including Skype, Twitter and Facebook – parents interviewed for this story worry about the inappropriate content their children might find.
Parent Rachel Klopfenstein encourages parents to ask their children's school whether websites, apps or the app store can be blocked.
“EACS has filters and the filters are monitored and updated often, however, the internet is constantly changing,” Klopfenstein said in an email.
“If you have concerns about content accessed, please contact the school as they are continually working to maintain the integrity of the internet children can access on their school iPad,” she added.
It's unsurprising that students – particularly older students – might find ways around the technology rules schools establish, SACS Superintendent Phil Downs said.
He noted the filter used by SACS serves another purpose – it can alert district officials to students' searches about such topics as self-harm.
“The filter helps with that as well,” Downs said.