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School board not backing down on Wi-Fi

QMI Agency

The Catholic elementary teachers' union doesn't trust Wi-Fi in schools, but without direction from medical officers of health, the local Catholic school board isn't flinching.

About one third of the St. Clair Catholic District School Board's 29 elementary and high schools have Wi-Fi already, said director of education Paul Wubben. And there are plans to expand.

"Safety of children comes first but we haven't heard anything from our local medical officers of health in either Lambton or Kent County, or the chief medical officer of health for Ontario," he said.

He was reacting to a research paper published by the Ontario Elementary Catholic Teacher's Association (OECTA) Feb. 13, outlining issues the 45,000-strong union has with radiation produced from wireless computer networking and other technologies.

"There's not a lot of solid information out there (about Wi-Fi radiation effects)," said Lambton Kent OECTA unit president Wayne Bechard, noting the paper is to raise awareness and promote caution.

Parents in Simcoe took umbrage with Wi-Fi in schools two years ago, saying it was responsible for headaches, nausea, dizziness and other maladies their children were feeling.

The World Health Organization said in May radiation from wireless devices could be carcinogenic and more research is needed.

Health Canada is also calling for more research.

Current safety thresholds don't take long-term exposure on children into account, OECTA said in the position paper.

That means school boards need to be cautious, Bechard said.

"I wouldn't rip out what they've got," he said. But maybe switch networks off when they're not in use, he said.

"Just because we don't' know the impact it's actually having on kids, on students," he said.

The St. Clair board is already cautious, Wubben said, noting most school boards in Ontario are planning to use Wi-Fi to let students take advantage of their own devices at school.

"I'm interested and I'm concerned," he said. "But at this stage I would say that we will proceed as we have."

The board's position is the same as the Ontario government's, he said.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents public school elementary teachers, is also looking at the issue.

Meanwhile, the Lambton Kent District School Board, the local public board, offers Wi-Fi access to 24,000 students at 66 elementary and secondary schools across the district.