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ICYMI: Seattle Times Op-ed Urges Congress to Pass Sens. Cruz and Fetterman’s Bipartisan Bill to Block Social Media Access in Schools

“The Eyes on the Board Act is not just good policy, but it may be the very thing that starts turning our education system around”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In case you missed it, the Seattle Times ran an op-ed urging Congress to pass U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) Eyes on the Board Act, a bipartisan bill to block social media access in schools. The senators’ bill was included in Sens. Cruz and Brian Schatz’s (D-Hawaii) Kids Off Social Media Act, which was introduced last week with broad bipartisan support.

While existing law requires schools to block access to obscenity, pornography, and other harmful sexual content as a condition of collecting federal subsidies, there is currently no similar obligation to restrict students’ access to distracting and addictive social media apps and websites on school networks. The Eyes on the Board Act would close this gap by requiring schools and school districts receiving federal broadband subsidies to prohibit access to distracting and addictive social media apps and websites on subsidized services, devices, and networks.

Read the full op-ed here and below.

Support Eyes on the Board Act and help kids focus on school, not TikTok
By Julie Barrett
May 2, 2024

It seems like everything changed in 2009, when smartphones became pervasive at my oldest child’s middle school. For all of us parenting during this time, this was uncharted territory, and I don’t think any of us could have foreseen just how sideways this experiment would go. Fast forward to 2024: I have five children, ages 17 to 28, and all of them have iPhones. If I could go back in time and get a do-over, I would hold off on smartphones until age 16, minimum.

We’ve learned a lot in the last 15 years and sadly, we have watched an entire generation of children suffer the consequences of having social media in the palm of their hand. Statistics show that 95% of teenagers are actively using social media. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy reports: “We do not yet have enough evidence to determine if social media use is sufficiently safe for them — especially during adolescence, a particularly vulnerable period of brain development.”

What we do know is that we have a youth mental health crisis. American adolescents are more depressed, anxious and suicidal than ever before. This crisis appears to have been exacerbated, if not caused, by excessive smartphone and social media use.

According to a paper published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, a 2021 Ariel University study of 84 research papers found several negative cognitive effects of smartphone addiction, “including difficulties in emotional regulation, impulsivity, shyness and low self-esteem. Subjects with smartphone addiction had comorbidities with mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD and alcohol use disorder.”

We have information now that we didn’t have before, and it’s time for us to step up and protect our children from the distractions and the dangers of unrestricted use of cellphones and social media.

While parents have a central role to play in restricting smartphone access, there are simple steps policymakers and schools can take as well. Consider the Eyes on the Board Act, smart bipartisan legislation from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. John Fetterman, D-Penn. Their bill, which would require schools receiving federal broadband funding to block social media on subsidized networks and devices, is an excellent step in protecting kids.  Even if the students are using their personal devices and are on the school’s Wi-Fi, they would be unable to access social media. It would help kids focus on learning and in-person interaction, rather than distracting notifications and mindless scrolling.

The Eyes on the Board Act would also provide policymakers with greater insight into screen use and educational technology in schools, such as online learning platforms like i-Ready and iXL Learning. These are used in schools across the country for student assessment and instruction but they are not helping students. Public school test scores are at an all-time low. The National Assessment for Educational Process reported in 2022 that math test scores for fourth and eighth grade nationwide posted the largest declines since 1990. Reading scores had also declined and were lower than 2005 levels. We should be asking whether excessive screen and technology use in schools is part of the problem, rather than the solution.

We have a duty to our children to provide them with quality education and to do that in 2024 means removing the distractions of social media and screen time. The Eyes on the Board Act is not just good policy, but it may be the very thing that starts turning our education system around and getting our students back on track, academically, mentally and emotionally.

Please email U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and ask her to move this bill forward.

Julie Barrett is the founder of Conservative Ladies of Washington.