Some British schools dismantle Wi-Fi over health fears

Parents and teachers fear that electromagnetic emissions from 801.11 radios can be harmful

Some British parents and teachers are pressuring public schools to ban and even dismantle Wi-Fi nets in public schools, because of health concerns.

The move, reported in a story by The Times, could spark a debate over the evidence or lack of it that electromagnetic emissions, in this case, from 801.11 radios can be harmful.

Any such debate will send a shock through wireless LAN vendors, for whom the education market is a critical growth area.

But it's also the latest in what seems to be a rising number of wireless controversies involving school-age and sometimes younger children, covering not only emissions but also privacy, security and safety, and acceptable use of cell phones, WLANs, and RFID.

Parents convinced the head teacher at one prep school in the United Kingdom to dismantle the school's WLAN. "We listened to the parents' views and they were obviously very concerned. We also did a lot of research. The authorities say it's safe, but there have been no long-term studies to prove this," he told The Times.

The story reported on two other schools where health concerns voiced by parents led officials to scrap WLANs in favor of wired networks. A mother of a student at another school likened those concerns to the debate over cell phone, and cell phone tower, emissions. The news story quoted her as saying, "Many people campaign against mobile phone masts near schools, but there is a great deal of ignorance about wireless computer networks. Yet they are like having a phone mast in the classroom and the transmitters are placed very close to the children."

One teacher at still another school claims the WLAN made him so ill he was unable to teach.

"I felt a steadily widening range of unpleasant effects whenever I was in the classroom," he said. "First came a thick headache, then pains throughout the body, sudden flushes, pressure behind the eyes, sudden skin pains and burning sensations, along with bouts of nausea. Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal."

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John Cox

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