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Schoolchildren use laptops connected to a wireless network. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)
Schoolchildren use laptops connected to a wireless network. (Charla Jones/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)

B.C. parents with WiFi health fears vote to limit school networks Add to ...

A group representing B.C. parents has voted in favour of two resolutions to limit WiFi technology in schools, reflecting the concerns of some parents that wired classrooms can pose health and safety risks to students.

While school boards are expected to discuss the votes, they are not binding and may have little impact, as many districts have already communicated with parents about the issue.

“As far as health or perceived health issues, we depend on the health authorities, the experts, to give us information on what the right practice is,” Surrey School District spokesman Doug Strachan said on Monday. “And certainly in Canada, the health experts are saying that WiFi is safe.

“So we’re proceeding that way.”

Surrey has received “sporadic” questions from parents about potential health impacts of WiFi networks and deals with those concerns on a case-by-case basis, Mr. Strachan said, adding that systems are tested and fall well below minimum emission guidelines.

Delegates to the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils passed two resolutions at their annual general meeting on May 26. One calls on school districts to have one school at each education level that is free of wireless connections, cordless phones and cellular phones. A second resolution calls on boards to stop installing wireless networks in schools where other technology is available.

The second resolution first was made at the group’s annual meeting last year, when a committee was struck to look into parents’ concerns. The committee failed to reach a consensus, noting in its report that while some members of the committee do not consider WiFi a significant health risk, other members supported a resolution to ask boards to provide WiFi-free schools.

“This is a request to the boards of education in B.C.,” BCCPAC director John Puddifoot said on Monday, adding the resolution is designed to give parents a choice. “I think that’s reasonable accommodation to the people who think that WiFi is hazardous and it also gives accommodation to people who think WiFi is fine.”

Wireless concerns in schools are not restricted to B.C. A committee formed by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association spent nearly a year reviewing research and worries over health raised by some parents, before taking the position earlier this year that schools should err on the side of caution and stop turning themselves into WiFi zones.

The Vancouver School Board is in the midst of rolling out wireless networks in its system but recognizes some parents have concerns about the technology, Vancouver School Board chairwoman Patti Bacchus said.

Public health officials have said the technology is safe but “we also want to acknowledge when parents raise concerns that we respect that and try to reach some compromises where it’s feasible,” Ms. Bacchus said, saying such compromises could include restricting wireless networks to certain parts of a school.

In Langley, the board will take BCCPAC resolutions under advisement, said spokesman Sandy Wakeling.

Some parents have raised concerns about wireless technology but it has not been a widespread issue, Mr. Wakeling said.

Taking cellular phones out of the school – even only one in a district – could be a bigger issue than shunning WiFi, he said.

Langley district policy used to call for students to turn off their mobile phones during a lock down out of concerns that ringing phones could alert intruders to students’ whereabouts.

After two recent lockdowns, however, the district revised its policy after students, teachers and parents said they’d relied on text messages to communicate during the events.

“We recognized in the wake of these two instances that kids are smarter than that, they know how to turn their ringers off,” Mr. Wakeling said. “And at the same time, parents are greatly relieved to get a little text from their students saying, ‘I’m okay, this is what’s going on.’ ”

School administrators also communicated with teachers through text messages during the lockdowns, Mr. Wakeling said.

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