Board: Cell Towers on School Roofs in Exploratory Phase

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May 12, 2011

The Albemarle County School Board has proposed a plan to put cell phone towers on at least three County elementary and middle schools to improve cell phone service for the school division.

The Board discussed the possibility and invited public comment during Thursday night's regularly scheduled meeting.

Members say the poor cell phone service they experience in various parts of the County puts local children in harm's way because it hampers communication with school officials, faculty and staff in the event of an emergency.

"We rely on that cellular service for our GPS position reporting installed on our buses, as well as administrative devices that provide both voice and date services," said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson.

However, some parents say that putting cell phone towers on top of elementary schools emit radio frequency waves and could be doing damage that can't be seen by the naked eye.

"Frankly, I'm floored," said Stony Point Elementary PTO President Andrea Heapes. "Putting a cell phone tower on top of an elementary school where there are children with developing bodies? It's ridiculous!"

School officials cite various health organizations that say there is no evidence that shows cell phone towers cause harm in children.

"We've asked our Student Health Advisory Board to take a look at any potential health risk; to look at studies that are out there and come back with a recommendation for our board," said Dr. Benson.

However, Heapes believes they cannot say that conclusively.

"Why would we take that risk when we don't have to? There are other alternatives the County could use to accomplish their communication goals," she argued.

Proposed sites include Stony Point, Scottsville and Yancey elementary schools, as well as Walton Middle School.

Instead of mounting antennas on school roofs, some opponents are asking why the County does not simply switch cell phone providers. The Board reportedly explored that option, but discovered that AT&T, with which Albemarle County Public Schools have a service contract, is presently the only carrier that offers the specific type of voice and data services they need.

The School Board told CBS19 that they are in an "exploratory phase" and no decision will be made just yet.

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