Greater Victoria school district ends ban on Wi-Fi for K-5 grades

Schools required to consult with parents on Wi-Fi before installation

A nearly three-year-long moratorium on the installation of Wi-Fi in elementary schools in Greater Victoria was lifted this week, although schools now have to consult with parents before installing wireless signals.

The Greater Victoria school board voted 5-4 Monday to allow Wi-Fi in K-5 schools, so long as the school conducts a consultation process with the community first.

“We want to do it as safely as possible, but ultimately we believe parents have the responsibility to make choices for what’s the safest things for their kid,” said board chair Peg Orcherton.

In January 2011, following a surge in concerns from a small but vocal group of parents on alleged health effects of Wi-Fi, the board formed a committee to explore the topic and the moratorium was implemented.

A Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils survey showed 53 per cent of parents don’t have health concerns surrounding Wi-Fi. (Twenty-two per cent had concerns.) Sixty-one per cent of parents said the decision to install Wi-Fi should be made by the school community.

Trustee Tom Ferris, who sat on the Wi-Fi committee, said the results of the VCPAC survey indicated there were options to move forward on lifting the moratorium while still addressing concerns. He put forward two Wi-Fi-related motions that passed Monday.

The second motion indicates the board will monitor ongoing research from a variety of health experts, and will review recommendations on an annual basis.

“We want to make sure we’re keeping track and are up to date. And of course the equipment that’s out there gets better and better,” Ferris said.

Superintendent John Gaiptman said Wi-Fi is in all of the district’s middle and secondary schools (installed before the moratorium), and a community consultation process was done in each of those cases.

“This isn’t new. What was new was the fact that we certainly consulted more regarding elementary schools,” he said.

Early next month he plans to meet with elementary school principals to discuss “what it means to have support,” Gaiptman said.”Given the fact that there was so much more debate at the elementary level, we’ll formalize that so it’s done the same way from school to school. Schools need support – this isn’t just informing, and I think the onus is on us to determine the meaning behind those words.”

Orcherton says she’s seen the benefits of having Wi-Fi capable schools. Electronic devices like iPads can function as learning tools in the classroom.

“We’ve seen how well (those technologies are) working and how it’s expanded their worlds. They can connect with students all over more than they can with hard-wired (Internet),” she said. “There’s just more benefits with Wi-Fi than hard-wired technology.”

Terry Edwards, principal of Saanich’s Northridge elementary, says his staff is “champing at the bit” to begin the process of consulting with the school community.

“It’s about time,” Edwards said. “(Having wireless Internet) just opens up everything to us. It opens up a whole new world in using technology to enhance student learning. Our staff is using iPads in classrooms right now, finding apps that are appropriate for their grade level and integrating them into their (lessons).”

kslavin@saanichnews.com