VCPAC recommends wifi be installed in Victoria schools

This evening the Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils (VCPAC) representing 29 school PAC’s voted on a series of recommendations related to wifi in schools. The vote was based on the analysis of the results of the VCPAC parental survey that was circulated to over 13,000 families in the district earlier this month (the survey results are available on the VCPAC website).

At tonight’s VCPAC meeting, the VCPAC voted to make the following recommendations to SD 61 trustees with regards to wifi.

  1. that wifi installations be permitted in all schools
  2. that each school, prior to installation, must obtain the support of their school community using the Selective Consultation policy 1163
  3. that the District monitor WiFi research and respond accordingly and promptly
  4. that the District maintain the most current technology designed to reduce overall emissions
  5. that schools respond to any environmental sensitivities reported by students

Overall, I am happy. The reason I started this site was to make sure parents in SD61 had another perspective on WiFi in schools when this survey came out and I hope that, in some small way, the website helped parents in our district make a decision.

However, there are a few points in the recommendations that I am concerned about. First regarding point #2.  I actually moved that point 2 be struck from the recommendations (probably the first time in my life I have ever made a motion for less community consultation). The point I made was that this issue has been acrimoniously debated in our district for close to 3 years now, and has been extremely divisive. By recommending that each school must obtain support of their school community prior to installing wi-fi in schools, I am concerned that we are setting the stage for this battle to trickle down to individual schools, and the battle that has happened at the maro level now becomes micro battles. My motion to remove the point was defeated (again, how can you argue against more community consultation), but I suspect that should the SD move ahead with these recommendations, this issue will continue to fester and be a divisive issue in our school communities.

I also wanted to speak to point #5 as this recommendation seems to lend support to the fact that wi-fi is, indeed, linked to the medical condition known as Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity. This connection is unproven, as Dr. Richard Stanwick notes in his July 2011 letter to the SD 61 trustees. Yet this recommendation seems to support the notion that there is a connection between WiFi and a medical condition. Additionally, there is scant support for this recommendation in the results of the parent survey, so I am not sure how it made it to the recommendation stage. I wanted to debate this issue at the meeting, but to be honest when I looked around the room I saw many weary parents who are sick to death with this issue and wanted some kind of closure to this issue. I fear that tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and the anti-wifi side will be making claims like, “Victoria parents demand schools make accommodations for children with environmental sensitivities” and that recommendation will be twisted. I hope that is not going to be the case.

I also brought up the point that the major concern of parents reflected in the survey has nothing to do with health of wi-fi, but rather the appropriate use of technology in the classroom. Issues of cyberbullying, digital distraction, and screen time were abundant in the responses – issues that all parents, including myself, are concerned about. I made the point that this was not reflected in the recommendations, and it should be as this is the conversation I think most parents want to have about technology in school, not about the tenuous health risks of wi-fi. When I brought up the concern, VCPAC Chair John Bird assured me that the issue will be addressed in upcoming VCPAC meetings and events.

Short story long, an early victory in that the recommendation to the board is that the current wi-fi moratorium be lifted and wi-fi be allowed into schools. Now, to see if the SD61 trustees will act on that recommendation.