School turns off wi-fi over parents' fears

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 30/12/2013

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A Kapiti Coast primary school has decided to switch off wi-fi in its junior classrooms after a survey of parents revealed concerns about radiation exposure.

Damon Wyman, a parent of two children at Te Horo School, sparked the survey when he started researching the effects of wi-fi after his 10-year-old son Ethan died of a brain tumour. In the past two weeks, scientists and experts from around the world have flooded Mr Wyman with advice and shared their concerns.

However, the ministries of education and health have expressed confidence that wi-fi is safe to use in schools.

Te Horo School board of trustees chairman Steve Joss said the school had consulted widely, and the decision to turn off wi-fi in the junior classrooms was not about safety. "We don't have concerns about safety with the wi-fi, but we received enough feedback from parents not wanting it in the junior school that we decided to switch it off."

Other than teachers using laptops, he said there was no need for wi-fi in the junior school because it was not used by the children.

However, unless the advice from the Ministry of Education changed, the school would not be looking at switching off wi-fi in other areas of the school.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary Andrew Hampton said: "We know this issue has caused concern in the Te Horo community, but without any new research evidence we don't see any need to review the wider use of wi-fi in schools at this time."

The ministry would continue to work with the Ministry of Health to monitor any new research as it came to light, he said.

Mr Wyman said the school's decision was a "step in the right direction". "Children absorb 60 per cent more radiation than adults because their skulls are thinner and their bones are still developing. When the overwhelming amount of scientific studies are saying it has long-term biological risks, then it makes sense to err on the side of caution."

The Ministry of Health needed to get up to speed with other countries, such as Australia, and at least put a limit on the radiation exposure to children.

One of the options was for schools to have their internet provided by hard-wiring, he said.

There was a group of parents prepared to pay for that.

"I'm not against technology and want to see the students using it, but if there's an alternative that's safer and parents are prepared to pay for it, then why wouldn't we do it?"

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