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School board says WiFi safe, others not so sure
MISSISSAUGA — Two Mississauga parents are concerned that a Peel District School Board plan to install wireless internet access at its 240 elementary and secondary schools could affect the health of students.
However, Board officials say they’ve read the research and consulted the experts and are confident there will be no adverse effect on students. In fact, they believe the $7 million plan that’s about halfway complete will have many benefits for students, including helping with their learning.
Tony Pontes, the Board’s director of education, said bringing in WiFi supports the Board’s Bring Your Own Device initiative. It calls for students to bring devices such as smartphones, laptops and tablets with them to use to learn in class.
“I believe that if we didn’t do this, we would have been doing a disservice to the kids,” said Pontes.
Pontes said using such devices in the workplace has become commonplace and the Board wants to prepare students for that stage of their lives. Using the devices also allows students to access all types of information from various sources, which builds critical thinking skills, and also is a new way to engage students.
“One of the concepts that’s very prevalent in education right now is engagement,” said Pontes. “When kids are engaged, actively involved and focused, they work like crazy and bring all their energies to bear (on learning) because they’re captivated.”
That, invariably, leads to better learning and better grades, he said.
However, not all parents are as enthused with the plan.
Clarkson’s Kelly Wash said he and his wife are thinking about enrolling their son, who’s in Grade 6 and attends public school in Mississauga, at a school outside the Peel Board where there’s no WiFi.
“I want to send him to a school where he’s not bombarded with radiation,” said Wash, who also served as spokesperson for Concerned Citizens for Clarkson/Lorne Park, an organization that helped stop a cell phone tower proposed for Clarkson.
Wash believes allowing students WiFi access will also lead to them wasting time on social networking sites, bullying and other issues. However, his chief concern is the health effects on children.
Wash said there’s been no long-term study about the effects of the signals being broadcast from routers. Until that’s done, he says, students should be plugging in for internet access and not using a wireless network.
“We’re putting our most precious thing, our children, underneath an industrial router for six hours a day,” said Wash. “God knows what the long-term health effects could be.”
Pontes said student and staff safety is among the Board’s primary concerns.
“The experts we rely on have confirmed WiFi is safe,” said Pontes, noting officials have consulted with Health Canada, Peel Public Health and other groups. “I believe WiFi is safe at the levels our routers are putting out, based on the research.”
Pontes said the World Health Organization has found there are no obvious, adverse effects of low-level radiofrequency exposure.
An information session on the plan is scheduled for April 24 at Port Credit Secondary School. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will include presentations from Pontes as well as Board chair Janet McDougald. Dr. David Mowat, Peel Region’s medical officer of health, and the Board’s manager of health, wellness and safety, Louise Barker, will also be at the meeting.
Wash, though, still has concerns. He says substances such as thalidomide and asbestos were previously thought to be safe and were later discovered to have serious health effects. He doesn’t put much stock in Health Canada’s information as he doesn’t believe it has the capability to properly research the subject.
Frank Clegg, CEO of C4ST, an organization that works to raise awareness of the effects of wireless radiation, said if he was a member of the Peel Board, he wouldn’t proceed with the plan.
He said evidence exists that children’s brains are thinner and softer than adult brains, making them more susceptible to emissions.
“I think there’s enough evidence to suggest there’s harm,” said Clegg, former president of Microsoft Canada. “Kids in the public system don’t have a choice; they have to go to schools (that will have WiFi).”
The Board hopes to have WiFi installed in all schools by mid-fall.