In what experts believe is the first suit of its kind, some Illinois parents have filed a class-action lawsuit against their local school district over the harmful effects allegedly caused by the district’s wireless network.

In the suit, the parents claim that Oak Park Elementary School District 97 installed a wireless local area network in classrooms despite what they call “a substantial body of evidence” that finds exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic radiation is especially harmful to children.

The plaintiff’s lawyers “have collected more than 400 scientific articles, summaries, and references outlining the health risks from low-intensity radio frequency radiation exposure,” the complaint said.

It also said the district refused to invite expert witnesses to explain the available research.

Gail Crantz, a spokeswoman for Oak Park Elementary School District 97, said the complaint is “curious” because the district had examined the safety of wireless networks over a two-year period.

“We’ve had several witnesses testify. They’ve brought in experts, and we’ve brought in experts,” Crantz said. “The board has determined that the use of wireless technologies is safe.”

Part of the problem, Crantz said, is that not many studies about the safety of wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks exist. The majority of wireless research pertains to cell phone frequencies, which are 30 times more powerful than Wi-Fi frequencies.

Denis Eaton, chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance, agrees. “There have been no specific studies on Wi-Fi,” Eaton said. “If you have some or are aware of some, we’d like to know about them.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance says wireless networks are safe because every Wi-Fi product on the market has been tested and certified by the Federal Communications Commission.

“The risk for Wi-Fi is much lower than the risk for microwave ovens or anything else that people are exposed to on a daily basis,” he said.

Major reports have found no ill effect from cell phones or cordless phones, Eaton said–and compared with Wi-Fi, these items have a higher frequency and are held in closer proximity to the body. “You don’t hold a laptop right up next to your head. It’s usually on your desk,” he explained.

Other school districts that have installed wireless networks have found no evidence of harmful effects.

“No child is in an environment with solid broadcasts for a long time. At most, the child has the use of a laptop for 30 minutes to 45 minutes per day,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology at the Governor Mifflin School District in Pennsylvania.

“Those who manage technology, and parents who send their children to our nation’s schools, face far more dangerous hazards–such as declining budgets and staffing, aimless leadership, and inflammatory technophobic fear-mongering–than alleged radiation damage from laptop computers,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer for the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa.

But parents’ concerns should be taken seriously, said most of those who spoke with eSchool News. “Schools need to do their homework and be well informed about the implementation of any new technology, Wi-Fi included,” said Bob Moore, executive director of information technology at the Blue Valley Unified School District in Kansas.

The Oak Park district has not stopped using its wireless technology, although the plaintiffs have requested that the wireless network be shut down until the district proves it poses no health or safety risk.

The complaint by parents was filed Sept. 26 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. A hearing before Judge Nancy Arnold is scheduled for February.

Links:

Complaint
http://wifinetnews.com/archives/illinoislawsuit.pdf/illinoislawsuit.pdf

Oak Park Elementary School District 97
http://www.op97.k12.il.us

Wi-Fi Alliance
http://www.weca.net