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Final Letter to Lord Hill

Final Letter to Lord Hill – Urgent – From SSITA                      10.01.2013

FAO Lord Hill of Oareford
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools
Sanctuary Buildings,
Great Smith Street,
London SW1P  3BT

Final open letter to Lord Hill of Oareford from Safe Schools Information Technology Alliance:

Dear  Lord Hill,

It is with great concern that SSITA writes to you again on the subject of wireless technologies in schools. You may recall that we first wrote to you in July 2010. We were at that time very grateful for the care with which you answered our letter, and both our letter to you and your considered reply can be found on the SSITA website.

We attach ( by following email) a copy of the article which appeared in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, December 8th 2012, regarding the proposed purchasing by parents of children at a school in the north of England of wireless devices for their children’s  use at school. Please scroll to bottom  centre of page 2: “Buy you child an ****** (name of device) school orders parents.”

Although we have concerns about the cumulative exposure from devices that rely on wireless RF exposure for their operation,  we  also have concerns about the concept  of  “Bring your own device”  (BYOD) with regard to children bringing in their own devices into the classroom.

We understand, in these days of reduced budgets, that  schools may genuinely feel that they are taking the best option by asking parents to contribute to the cost of these devices.

However, what this  means is that Headteachers are in effect asking parents to contribute to a device which the school intends to be used with what the World Health Organisation’s  IARC Committee has classified as a 2B “possible”  carcinogen. ( Wi-Fi RF radiation). This could immediately put such Headteachers in a dubious  legal position. They may not be aware of the WHO 2B carcinogen classification themselves-or that there is a possibility that it will be raised to a 2A-a “probable”  carcinogen.  It would also appear that they are on dubious legal ground because they are asking for parental support for something without making sure that parents are giving their full informed consent. Some parents are highly aware of the IARC classification,  but others parents  may not be aware of it. For schools that are Academies, this could well come back to haunt both Headteachers and their Governing Bodies, when parents  do finally become aware of the WHO/IARC classification.

We recognise that children will ask for these devices for Christmas and many parents will want to provide such. However what does concern us is that wireless network providers, some of whom seem to be aware of the WHO classification, appear to be assisting schools in the BYOD approach, regardless of whether the schools themselves know of this classification.

If schools have a duty of care, then Headteachers should be given the full facts, to enable them to execute their duties adequately,  and without any possible legal repercussions for them or their Governors in years to come. Does this not mean that the DfE should be ensuring that Headteachers are aware of this classification, and that Headteachers  should be encouraged to mediate this to parents before asking them to contribute to the cost of these devices?

We have two questions to ask of the DfE:

1.Why is this Government allowing  a 2B Carcinogen to be used in  children’s’ environments, against,  (inter alia), all principles of duty of care for vulnerable children and adults, when surveys show that a small percentage will be adversely affected ( thus initiating “ ipso facto” discrimination), and against all principles of parental choice (which this Coalition Government purports to embrace ) and the principle of  full  “informed”  parental consent?

See Note 1 re “ vulnerable children and adults.”  Why is this advice being ignored?

2. Could you please provide SSITA with the comparative exposure measurements for mobile phones and these devices? In some circumstances, exposure from these devices may well be as high or higher than for mobile phones, and thus a school requiring their use could appear to be acting against the Government’s  own advice.  ( Please see Note 2).

We need to ask this of you because LEAs are justifying the use of these devices as being safer than  mobile phones  because they are not used “ near the head”  but this is no argument if such devices can give a higher exposure  for longer periods. As Robert Baan, the Director of the WHO/IARC has said:

“An important point is the radiation level.” Cumulative exposure would therefore seem to matter.

Question 2 above will also be the subject of an accompanying FOI request to the DfE.

We  also recognise that what may be appropriate at University level, with students most definitely bringing their own devices, and Universities having to provide Wi-Fi compatibility throughout the campus, may not be as appropriate in a school setting. It can be  readily appreciated  how such a scheme as BYOD has filtered down from University level.. no doubt with a great deal of assistance from the wireless industry!

Far too many intelligent people in the education sector seem to be assuming that there will be no health effects from the proliferation  of wireless technologies.   Headteachers still seem ignorant of the implications of the Council of Europe advice (originally calling for a ban on wireless internet in schools), later changing the wording to a recommendation for the preference for wired internet (Resolution 1815) or the World Health Organisation/IARC  classification of this type of radiation as a Class 2B carcinogen. No-one seems to be considering the legal implications for schools if the proliferation of these wireless technologies continues apace and scientists’  warnings  prove to have  increasing substance, (See Note 3)  or the classification is raised to a higher 2A “probable” carcinogen level.

You have yourself, in your penultimate paragraph of your letter to us,  stated that the decision on whether or not to install Wi-Fi will have been a “local one.”  In the case of Academies, rapidly growing in number,  the Governing Body can be safely assumed to be legally liable for any wireless technology they now embrace.. or for any decisions they now make entailing its use or upgrading.

Security and Safeguarding issues:

Parents appear not only to be upset because of the cost of these devices but also because of the security aspect of children carrying these devices to and from school. Regarding security, we have parents joining SSITA who are very concerned about the possibility of children being mugged for these devices when travelling to and from school. It only takes one incident with one child victim for parents to be up in arms about this, and possibly refusing to let their children carry these devices to school in future.  An eleven-year-old is no match for a large teenage lout intent on mugging him or her  their device…on a dark night in a quiet street. Should schools be willing to put children at risk in this way? If schools should want to use these devices then they should provide them  themselves  on  school premises…and pay for them,  having made that decision, and recognising the liability of the Headteacher and his/her Governors in using them in the curriculum.

We wonder how schools can possibly say that they adhere to a safeguarding policy and then think that putting children at such unnecessary risk  indeed falls within that same policy.

Some of these devices contain cameras, possibly increasing the risk of cyber-bullying, not to mention  the undermining of privacy/ child protection policies.

Homework is increasingly done and marked via the internet, with  internet contact used between parents and schools, and this can continue unaffected, but the home computer can be wired if the parents so desire. Many  “aware”  parents strive to ensure that their home system is fully wired to ensure less risk to health. That parents are becoming increasingly aware that a wired system at home is a wiser and possibly safer option, is no thanks to the UK Department of Health, who have so far been remarkably reluctant, unlike the German Government,  to warn the population of the possible risk from wireless technologies. That the Department of Health have not been more forthcoming on their advice to schools and parents is equally a matter of growing concern.

As an example of this, last summer a parent in SSITA sent in to us an online link to a BBC article on a school  in Wales that was becoming quite excited about using mobile phones in the curriculum.

I rang this school and spoke to the Deputy Head. He listened intently while I enquired if he knew of the Council of Europe Resolution 1815, recommending that only wired internet be used in schools and  that mobile phones should not be used in schools.  No, he did not. Then I asked him whether he knew that this type of radiation had been classed by the WHO/IARC as a 2B carcinogen. No, he did not. Then I asked him if he knew that the Department of Health recommended in their leaflet of 2006 that children under 16 should use mobile phones for essential calls only. No, he did not. Then  he asked me a question: “ Why  haven’t we been told all this? ” 

That is the question we now ask both of the Department  of Health and of the DfE. It is a question that most certainly the DfE ought to be asking of the Department of Health!

Are you yourself, Lord Hill, content with this situation? May we talk in person to you about this in the new year?

Bullying of parents  by Headteachers and IT Managers:

Our parents have informed us of the most outrageous examples of bullying from Headteachers after  they approached schools with their concerns about wireless technology. Considering that these same schools are more than eager to assure parents of the rigour of their school’s anti-bullying policy, they fail utterly  to see that over the issue of Wi-Fi in schools that it is the parents themselves who are being most outrageously  bullied!   It should be perfectly reasonable for parents, having looked at the evidence for themselves, to request their child’s school not to expose their child to microwave radiation during the school day. It is outrageous that the only options available to these parents are either for them to remove their child from that school, when there may be no other provision for Wi-Fi-free education in other schools in that locality, or for them to have to travel great distances in all weathers in order to have their children educated in a non-WiFi  school environment.

There appears to be a fine line between bullying, heartless dismissal of parents’ concerns over Wi-Fi radiation,  denial of reasonable parental choice, and the sort of “ hamstringing” that parents are now complaining of. No other issue, other than wireless technology, has caused such distress to British parents, nor had such cruelly divisive, unjust and harsh ramifications within British education. Even the pros and cons of Grammar Schools are no match for this! To my knowledge, in  no other matter, have parents been in the agonising situation of having to consider withdrawing their children from a school where their children are otherwise happy and making good progress, to consider providing home schooling instead. Some of our parents have made the decision to home school-and for the sole reason of reducing their children’s exposure to Wi-Fi radiation. No British parents should have to make that particular choice…and for that reason. No British children should be denied the companionship of being educated along with friends in their community and alongside their age-group peers, for that reason.Society talks about discrimination- and there are rightly laws against it-but nowhere now is it more prevalent than in the very institution that should most be educating against discrimination- the education sector.. a sector which has lost track of its own values..whilst still purporting to teach them.

Never in the history of both education and of public health in this country have standards in public life sunk so low.The greatest threat to public health at this point in human history is from wireless technologies. The fact that the nation’s children are caught up in this is a national disgrace, and  will come back to haunt this nation.

Yours Sincerely,

Diana Hanson:
For and on behalf of SSITA

Note1:
ICNIRP makes the following statement in its ICNIRP STATEMENT entitled General Approach to Protection Against Non-Ionizing Radiation, page 8, ‘People being protected’:

‘Different groups in a population may have differences in their ability to tolerate a particular NIR exposure. For example, children, the elderly, and some chronically ill people might have a lower tolerance for one or more forms of NIR exposure than the rest of the population. Under such circumstances, it may be useful or necessary to development separate guideline levels for different groups within the population, but it may be more effective to adjust the guidelines for the general population to include such groups.’ Read more

Note 2:

If the measurements and interpretation are correct, for power flux density, Safe In School shows that a smart phone while talking emits 40,000-110,000 microWatts/m2, with peaks up to 190,000, whereas these devices have spikes of 500,000-700,000, with spikes of 300,000 even on airplane mode. The Seletun Conference biological safety limit is 170-1,700 and ES sufferers can feel symptoms below 1 microW/m2. The UK government warns that children should not use mobile phones except as an emergency, so presumably this warning also applies to the higher measurements from these other wireless tablet devices. Even the magnetic fields of such a device can be high at 15,000 nT, where the Seletun limit is 100 nT and ES sufferers can feel ramps of 5nT at 7nT.

Note 3.
I attach two print-outs from two of our sister organisations (Powerwatch and Wi-Fi in Schools) giving useful commentaries on the release last Monday (6.01.2013) of the five-year  update on the BioInitiative Report:
“The new report concludes that we have far more evidence than is necessary to require us to immediately take more precautionary action to protect ourselves, our children and all life of the planet.”
Request:
I am making this request on behalf of those concerned with the health and welfare of children,  (i.e  parents, grandparents,  carers, teachers, school personnel ,and children themselves,  that a dialogue be set up between the Department of Education and the Department of Health, with a view  to both Departments issuing a joint report  as soon as feasible,  in order to give proper guidance on exposures from all wireless tablet devices, with regular reviews as the Science develops, and with proper regard to the level of precaution needed, (either to increase it or to relax it),  and that it should not fail to take adequate note of  all  the Scientific evidence as it stood at the time of the report’s release.
Copy to Children’s Commissioner.

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