Wi-Fi in schools debated by parent group

NANAIMO – Provincial parent group calling on districts to limit Wi-Fi in schools.

As Nanaimo school district continues plans to roll out wireless Internet access in all schools, a provincial parent group is calling on districts to limit Wi-Fi in schools.

Two resolutions regarding wireless networks were debated and passed at the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’s annual general meeting last week.

One asked school boards to stop installing Wi-Fi in schools when other options are available. The second calls on districts to have one school at each level (elementary, middle, high school) free of wireless technologies.

Karen Hoy, vice-president of the Nanaimo District Parent Advisory Council, voted against the resolution calling on a halt to installing this technology in schools, but in favour of requesting one school be exempt.

“It’s important that parents have choice,” she said. “I myself am not afraid of Wi-Fi technology. Nobody has shown me any conclusive evidence that it’s harmful. The majority of people I talked to are not convinced.”

But there are some Nanaimo families – she estimates about 10 per cent – convinced that wireless technology causes health problems and are concerned about it going into schools, Hoy said.

Health Canada states that low-level exposure to radiofrequency energy from Wi-Fi equipment is not dangerous to the public, but the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said there’s not much chance the board would decide to leave two schools with hard-wired technology.

“It strongly flies in the face of where we want to go in education,” he said. “We’re trying to incorporate a technology plan for the entire district.”

The district is consulting with school communities about what they want in a strategic plan.

Brennan said he heard from eight or nine parents on Gabriola Island who are opposed to Wi-Fi, but parents at another school indicated they want children to have access to a variety of technologies in school to prepare them for the workplace.

The medical evidence states the technology is not harmful, he added.

Jeanette Pongratz-Doyle, one of the parents opposed to wireless in schools, asked the board last spring to consider hard-wiring Internet connections instead of moving forward with the wireless plan, citing studies that found wireless technologies harmful to human health.

“They’ve decided to turn their head away from all the studies on the other side,” she said. “Why are we putting children’s health at risk just to have the latest? Everything can be supplied hard-wired. There should be no Wi-Fi in any school. Wired is totally safe for everybody.”