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Motion for Alta government to take "prudent approach" to school Wi-Fi defeated

EDMONTON - A motion calling on Alberta's education ministry to advise school boards to take a "prudent approach" on the use of wireless technology in schools has been soundly defeated.The motion, which was presented at the annual general meeting of the Alberta School Councils Association on Sunday, also called for an examination of protocols to ensure that students are safe when exposed to Wi-Fi at school.Association president Brad Vonkeman estimates about 75 per cent of delegates voted against the motion, with many feeling it wasn't important enough for the association to deal with right now.A report by the Royal Society of Canada last year concluded that Health Canada's guidelines for radiofrequency waves were adequate but could benefit from more research.Vonkeman says opponents of the motion were concerned there's not enough up-to-date information about the heath effects of wireless technology to support limits on their use.He says there were also fears that a motion for caution might discourage some Alberta schools that don't have Wi-Fi yet from getting it."I think part of the concern is that some of the information is just not there enough yet," Vonkeman said on Sunday after the meeting was over."We're just getting Wi-Fi in some of these schools and we don't want our kids not to have access to some of that technology, because it's just starting to help some of the more outlying areas."Some scientists publicly challenged the Royal Society's report, claiming it failed to give enough weight to research suggesting a link between wireless devices and cancer.Dr. Anthony Miller, Professor Emeritus at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said the Royal Society panel didn't have the proper time or resources to devote to a thorough review of scientific data.The motion presented at the Alberta School Councils Association meeting called for the province to distribute copies of a brief produced by the Canadian Teachers' Federation.That document suggests steps to limit wireless exposure, such as using a wireless access point that is powered on when necessary and turned off at other times. It also calls for an education program regarding the relative safety of Wi-Fi exposure be implemented, and that resources go toward educating the public on ways to avoid potential exposure risks of Wi-Fi access points and devices.Vonkeman said there was passionate support for the resolution from some delegates but the debate remained civil."To be fair, they were not saying, 'We're not saying don't have Wi-Fi.' That was not being said by the people who brought forward the motion. They wanted more responsible use and some research on how damaging it possibly could be," Vonkeman said.Vonkeman said rather than making it a provincial issue, he expects parents in the province who may look at the Wi-Fi debate and raise it at their local school councils, advisory bodies largely made up of parents.

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