McKNEELY: Schools Are For Learning, Not Social Media

Maggie McKneely Contributor
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While America’s schoolchildren are still playing catch-up from years of COVID-induced learning loss, the federal government wants to expand access to harmful social media sites.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which partly funds high-speed internet access in schools through its E-Rate program, wants to expand that access, which all too often means more classroom disruptions and worse learning outcomes. More access to toxic social media is the last thing young students need. 

The negative effects of social media on America’s children are more apparent every day. Whether it’s their mental health, academic performance, or ability to focus, children are suffering from serious consequences of spending too much time on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General released an advisory report outlining the myriad of harms that social media poses to adolescents. Social media is also a conduit for spreading hateful ideologies such as antisemitism and gender confusion. Yet the FCC is set to enable kids to spend even more time on social media.

Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey that was released earlier this year showed alarming statistics indicating a growing trend, especially among girls, who are experiencing “extremely high levels of mental distress, depression, and suicidal thoughts.” 

These outcomes can be laid at the feet of social media. Without parental knowledge, kids are shoveling down a steady diet of graphic pornography, violent sexual images, drug use, transgender grooming, eating disorder glamorization, and other forms of online predation. Girls are exposed to the darkest corners of the internet and fed a diet of unrealistic body images and unattainable standards for beauty. 

Now the FCC wants give children and teens more access to this?

Thankfully, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ted Budd of North Carolina, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have introduced a bill that would promote learning, not social media scrolling, within schools. The “Eyes on the Board Act,” S. 3074, is a commonsense bill that every member of Congress should be able to support. A wide-ranging coalition, sent a letter to the senators urging them bring it up for a vote.

Currently, E-Rate recipients are not subject to reporting requirements of any kind, leaving them free to use the funds without oversight. Promoting parental empowerment and transparency, the bill would further require schools to adopt a screen time policy as a condition of receiving subsidies and require the FCC to make schools’ screen time and internet safety plans publicly available. These steps would protect children from toxic content and excessive screen time and ensure that school broadband subsidies are supporting meaningful educational outcomes and not undermining children’s safety and focus.

The FCC’s E-Rate program provides discounts for internet access and telecommunications to eligible schools. But there is no federal provision requiring schools to block access to distracting and addictive social media apps or websites on E-Rate subsidized services, devices, or networks. Schools could block those sites and apps if they wanted to, but since the FCC does not collect data on on E-Rate recipients, there is no way to know how many, if any, schools are restricting social media use. 

Because so many schools rely on the E-Rate program for internet access, it enables thousands of kids nationwide to access distracting and addictive social media during the school day, instead of learning how to read and solve math problems.

The FCC is currently angling to expand the E-Rate program beyond classrooms and libraries to the unsupervised environment of the school bus. With this expansion, kids will have even more free access to sites such as TikTok and Instagram without the oversight of parents or teachers.

As the FCC moves to expand E-Rate funding to school buses, the lack of such a prohibition creates a heightened risk of harm: unlike a study hall or a family’s home, there is little possibility of adult supervision since the bus driver, rightly, needs to focus on the road. At a time when children need to be incentivized with more personal interaction away from electronic screens, why is the federal government doing the exact opposite?

Cruz’s Eyes on the Board Act would prohibit schools or school districts from receiving E-Rate or Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) subsidies unless they prohibit access to social media on subsidized services, devices, networks, and facilities. It would also require schools to adopt a screen time policy, limiting the amount of time kids spend on their devices while in the classroom. This is just plain common sense and reflects the concerns of millions of parents. One poll found “social media use and the internet are at the top of the list” of concerns for U.S. parents of school-aged children.

This bill is an effective way to ensure kids are spending their time at school learning rather than scrolling through distracting and harmful content online. It’s a win for kids and education at a time when both are in crisis.

Maggie McKneely is Legislative Strategist for Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.