“What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” Wi-fi in Edmonton Public Schools

***Update: The board reaffirmed our commitment to using health canada guidelines for wireless in Edmonton Public Schools during our January 25th Board Meeting***
Some of you might have tuned in to a recent Edmonton controversy surrounding a few parents at an EPSB school regarding the installation of wi-fi in the classrooms. We have received presentations from these parents at the last two meetings. I’m going to write briefly on the process and where we are at and then add a few concerns I have.
The process:
The EPSB district position has, and continues to be that Health Canada guidelines are the standard by which the district conducts their operations. There is a motion on the table from one of my trustee colleagues to reaffirm our commitment to those standards. All of our meetings are available by livestreaming online by clicking here: http://www.livestream.com/edmontonpublicschools
The fact that we are having this discussion shows that the system is working. If a community member, student, or teacher has a grievance with any practice or decision made, they are encouraged to take the matter forward through many of the different channels made available to them. In this case, and in many others, citizens are able to actively participate in the governance of our public education system. That is what happened in this circumstance. A group of parents were unable to find satisfaction at the school level and chose to pursue the channels available to them and that is why this issue has found itself in front of the board.
There has been considerable information provided by administration regarding our practices with regards to wi-fi and their confidence in the safety practices currently in place. As Health Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, and other reputable organizations continue to peer review information, our district will continue to support the best health practices entrusted for our children, whether they be with pesticides, paint, microwaves, electronic devices, or wi-fi.
My concerns:
I’m concerned that the attention being paid in the media and the community to the wi-fi debate has become a kind of unintentional red herring, distracting the public, the board, and the district from some of the more pressing and more unhealthy challenges facing our students that stem from pollution, poor nutrition, auto-dependency, and the lack of density/walkability in our urban form. There is much more substantive research done of many other proven health warnings that we are not talking about as a board, and these concerns should be our primary focus.
When it comes to student health and cancer prevention, agencies like the Canadian Cancer society at www.cancer.ca show that if we are serious about preventing cancer and promoting wellness in our children and in our society, we need to focus on the proven and widespread causes of cancer, what I call the “big four”- obesity, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and continued exposure to smoking and tobacco products. Wi-Fi and electronic devices are not on their list at this time. Banning pollutants and pesticides is a pressing priority for the Canada’s premiere cancer prevention organization and I have an inquiry in to administration at this time on this issue.
As a society, I believe we all need to be concerned with student health and safety, potential carcinogens, and other negative variables in our schools that might be impacting citizens, especially our youngest and most vulnerable.  Strong consumer guidelines, independent consumer watchdogs, government regulators, especially those that pertain to food, health and water, are just a few of the ways we need to look out for one another.
Let’s stay vigilant, but let’s make sure we are focusing our efforts on the areas where we can make the most difference and where we have the science to back us up.
The district should be focusing on the health and wellness of all students, especially focusing on increasing exercise, improving student diets, and eliminating exposure to tobacco products. We should do our best to keep all students and staff members healthy, and minimize their exposure to harsh chemicals and cleaners. For many of these health improvements, the studies are conclusive, clear, and point to a clear path forwards. My preference is to direct our district resources and energy to focus on promoting student health and wellness by taking a bite out of these “big four” challenges.
As always, if the facts change, I’m open to changing my mind.
For more information:
http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=2215#more-2215
Blog from a Neurologist at the Yale School of Medicine (h/t @stolenfire)
Edmonton Journal/CTV Story
http://edmonton.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110111/edm_wifi_110111/20110111/?hub=EdmontonHome
http://www.edmontonjournal.com/technology/Some+Edmonton+parents+have+concerns+about+classrooms/4088403/story.html
Edmonton Public Administration response to Trustee Cleary’s questions regarding Wi-Fi safety:
http://www.epsb.ca/board/january11_11/item06.pdf
And finally, a little REM because this song has been stuck in my head as I’ve been writing this post…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIOXQp-YGpQ