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Parents sue school district for Wi-Fi use

Parents of students take action against an Illinois school district for using Wi-Fi in classrooms, claiming that exposure to the low-level radio waves may damage students' health.

Parents of students who attend an Illinois school district are suing over the use of Wi-Fi technology in classrooms, alleging that exposure to the low-level radio waves may be damaging to students' health.

The plaintiffs, including students and parents, filed their suit Sept. 26 with the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois, against the Oak Park Elementary School District 97 and several administrators in the district. The defendants received their summons Wednesday, according to a representative for the district.

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According to the complaint, the district, its board and its superintendent have implemented Wi-Fi wireless networking technology in classrooms, ignoring evidence that electromagnetic radiation from Wi-Fi networks poses health risks, particularly to growing children.

"We've been trying to raise the issue with the school district for almost two years," said Ron Baiman, whose children are among the plaintiffs. "We aren't seeking any monetary awards; we're seeking a moratorium until use of the technology has been proven to be safe."

The school district has determined that it is following all safety regulations and that there is no hard evidence that suggests wireless technology is dangerous, according to Gail Crantz, director of public relations for District 97. The district has been using Wi-Fi technology since 1999, as have some of the high schools in neighboring districts and some hospitals in the community.

Use of Wi-Fi has increased dramatically as prices for wireless equipment have fallen and as the process of setting up the networks has become easier. Market research company Pyramid Research estimates the number of individuals who use Wi-Fi will grow from 12 million in 2003 to 707 million by 2008. Network operators are also expected to install more than 55,000 new hot spots in the United States over the next five years, adding to the 4,200 locations in place as of the end of 2002, according to researcher IDC.

Radiation has been a concern with other wireless technologies, such as cellular networks, but safety issues haven't gotten to levels where consumers have stopped using devices.

"The safety of our staff and students is our No. 1 priority," Crantz said. "There is no information to the contrary about the safety of the technology; there is a plethora of information--but nothing conclusive."

Baiman added that he wanted the school district to send parents a notice informing them that Wi-Fi technology was being used in the schools and that if they wanted they could have their children removed from classrooms when it was used.

"Most of it is a convenience issue, and it isn't a critical tool for educating kids," Baiman said. "There are alternatives they can use. It's just cheaper to use it."

The technology gives the schools flexibility in terms of administrative tasks and educating students, according to Crantz.

"Could we run a school without electricity or wireless?" Crantz asked. "Yes, but it wouldn't be the most efficient way of running a school district."