The new guidelines, which still must be approved by the full School Committee at its meeting Thursday, encourage technology users to avoid keeping cellphones, tablets and laptops close to their body, and to turn off the wireless connectivity on those devices when not using the internet...
“We don’t want, 10 years from now, to find out there was something we should have done.”
by Scott O’Connell, Telegram & Gazette Staff, 25 April 2017
WORCESTER – The school district could soon warn families to take precautions against exposure to wireless Internet radiation, after a school standing committee this week approved a set of recommendations developed by the administration.
The new guidelines, which still must be approved by the full School Committee at its meeting Thursday, encourage technology users to avoid keeping cellphones, tablets and laptops close to their body, and to turn off the wireless connectivity on those devices when not using the internet.
The full list of recommendations, comprising five bullet points, will be posted to the district’s Web site and distributed to students in handouts later this school year should the committee give its OK, according to John Monfredo, vice chairman of the committee’s Teaching, Learning and Student Supports Standing Committee, which adopted the safety tips at its meeting Monday.
While health organizations have asserted extensive research into the matter has not produced any solid evidence that non-ionizing radiation given off by smartphones and Wi-Fi routers is harmful to humans, Mr. Monfredo said the school system still should make parents aware of any potential dangers.
“We don’t want, 10 years from now, to find out there was something we should have done,” he said. “We live in the 21st century. We know technology will continue to grow ... but we can’t be blind to the fact it may cause some problems.”
Hardly any school districts have officially considered electromagnetic radiation an issue, however. In the region, the Ashland schools were the first to implement recommended best practices for mobile devices, which some Worcester school officials have used as a basis to explore developing their own.
Bob Walton, chief officer of the Worcester schools’ information technology department, which developed the recommendations endorsed by the standing committee this week, said he based them on suggested best practices put out by the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We don’t feel we should be setting what acceptable levels” of radiation exposure should be, he said. “We’re not a scientific body.” But Mr. Walton added there is “no harm in recommending” safety steps based on recommendations made by federal agencies.
They’re advisory,” said the standing committee’s chairman, Brian O’Connell. “They’re designed clearly not to alarm people.”
Both he and Mr. Monfredo, however, see the new guidelines as just “the beginning” of the committee’s foray into the issue. While more government data – school officials are specifically waiting for guidance from the state Department of Public Health, for example – will likely inform any future committee decisions on the issue, they said. Mr. Monfredo, for instance, would like to at least look into the possibility of going back to hardwired school buildings instead of Wi-Fi-enabled, or installing switches that could turn off signals in rooms where wireless Internet is not being used.
Scaling back the district’s large investments in wireless connectivity would be “an extreme measure,” however, Mr. Walton said, especially “when there’s not enough evidence for it” being necessary.
Mr. Monfredo isn’t the only elected official in the state interested in investigating more drastic steps to curb radio frequency exposure. Several bills filed at the Statehouse this session also call for a range of actions aimed at getting a better handle on the electromagnetic radiation issue. Petition legislation filed by Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston, for example, would establish statewide best management practices for Wi-Fi in schools.
Another petition bill, submitted by Sen. Donald F. Humason Jr., R-Westfield - who is not a sponsor of the measure, according to the state Legislature’s Web site – goes even further, effectively banning wireless signals on school grounds.
Neither Ms. Dykema nor Mr. Humason could be reached for comment on the bills Tuesday.