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  • Cell Towers At Schools: Godsend Or God-Awful?
  • Jewish schools in the Washington region receive bomb threats

  • De Blasio’s Plan for NYC Schools 


Cell Towers At Schools: Godsend Or God-Awful?

Cell Towers At Schools: Godsend Or God-Awful?

Chelsea Beck/NPR

School districts — hard up for cash — are turning to an unlikely source of revenue: cell towers. The multistory metal giants are cropping up on school grounds in Chicago, Milpitas, Calif., Collier County, Fla. and many other places across the country.

The big reason: money. As education budgets dwindle, districts are forming partnerships with telecom companies to allow use of their land in exchange for some of the profits.

Last year, for example, cell towers on seven school sites generated $112,139 in revenue for the schools in Prince George’s County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C.

Why school property?

“The places where service is needed the most are places where people live as well as where people work,” explains Len Forkas, founder of Milestone Communications, which partners with telecom companies and school districts, like Prince George’s, to build towers and share revenue. “There are very few locations in residential communities where the properties are large enough.”

One place where there is enough space: high schools. Most campuses are 20-40 acres, Forkas says, offering ample room for cell towers.


As enticing as these arrangements are, they also come with controversy.

“There are a growing number of parents that are concerned about selling out our school grounds to telecom companies,” says Lisa Cline of Gaithersburg, Md.

Cline, a PTA president who’s fighting cell tower construction in Montgomery County — which neighbors Prince George’s — is motivated by personal tragedy.

Her daughter, Chloe, got sick and passed away when she was one-and-a-half years old. “It seemed so random, a concept I have a hard time grasping,” Cline says. “I tend to believe in cause and effect.” So, Cline signed up for a study on pediatric leukemia.

Part of that study was an environmental screening: What had she been exposed to in her pregnancy? “There were so many things that were just commonplace,” Cline says, remembering questions like, Did she drink from plastic water bottles? Pump her own gas? Use mosquito repellent?

She began to look at the “products” in her life — among them, ever-expanding cell service. “I started to see Wi-Fi as an environmental pollutant,” she says. “I am an equal-opportunity worrier. Radio frequency radiation is the one that just looms largest at this moment in our lives.”

Cline has worked to strip her life of anything “suspicious” — anything that may have caused the cancer.

“There’s too many things that we all thought were fine that it turns out they’re not,” Cline says. “I don’t know that it’s going to have ill effects, but I sure as heck don’t want to find out 10 years down the road.”

Worries about radiation have been persistent since the dawn of the cell phone era.

But decades of scientific research have not established a firm connection between cell towers and health issues. The study Cline participated in — 11 years ago — had no conclusive results.

Nevertheless, Cline is one of many parents who’ve organized in some communities to stop construction of cell towers on school grounds. Their motivation is not just driven by radiation — parents I spoke with have other concerns: the visual impact, worries about potential property devaluation and anxiety that kids might get hurt playing near them.

In June, Milestone backed out of plans for two cell towers in Prince George’s County, following a contentious public forum. (Milestone’s agreement with Prince George’s County is one of more than 50 partnerships the company has in six states.)

Around the country, wireless infrastructure providers like Crown Castle, along with telecom giants Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T, have all made deals with districts.

Forkas says his company provides a public service by expanding wireless coverage and giving money back to schools.

But what about the radiation?

The research continues.

For 10 years, David McCormick and his colleagues at the IIT Research Institute in Chicago have been studying radio frequency (RF) fields generated by cell phones and similar devices.

Their research, funded by the National Toxicology Program, exposed rodents to high levels of RF radiation for nine hours a day, every day for two years.

Rats receiving long-term exposure to RF demonstrated small increases in the incidences of two types of malignant tumors — the same tumors that have been found in some studies of RF-exposed human populations.

“Is there a hazard or potential risk of cancer in humans who are exposed to RF fields? I believe the answer is yes,” McCormick says. “But the more important question is, what is your exposure?”

For people on the ground, exposure to radio frequency from cell phones, held against the ear, is far greater than from cell towers, McCormick says.

On its website, The American Cancer Society agrees that the towers pose little danger. “It is very unlikely that a person could be exposed to RF levels” in excess of limits established by the Federal Communications Commission “just by being near a cell phone tower,” the organization says. “The power levels are relatively low, the antennas are mounted high above ground level, and the signals are transmitted intermittently, rather than constantly.”

Even 30 meters away from a tower, children’s exposure to RF would be “almost zero,” McCormick says.

And the distance from a tower to an occupied school building is often much larger.

In other words, for the vast majority of the population — RF exposure from cell towers is very small.

“I understand the argument of an abundance of caution,” McCormick says. “Being cautious is appropriate, but we need to make sure there’s a real risk there.”



Jewish schools in the Washington region receive bomb threats


Bomb threats at two D.C. region Jewish schools under investigation


Play Video2:12
The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Montgomery County and the Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax County received bomb threats on the morning of Feb. 27. (WUSA)
February 27
Two Jewish schools in the Washington region received bomb threats Monday, disrupting classroom activities and leading police to sweep the campuses in Maryland and Virginia.The threats were sent to both schools through what seemed to be an automated voice message system, school officials said. Police are investigating.The calls were received at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Montgomery County and the Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax County after 9 a.m. Gesher administrators evacuated the school as police swept the building for explosives. At the North Bethesda upper campus of Charles E. Smith, students were kept in their classrooms, which is standard procedure for the school, as administrators and police inspected the building and its perimeter.Dozens of Jewish community centers, schools, synagogues and cemeteries across the country have recently faced hate messages and other discriminatory acts.

Jewish headstones were toppled in cemeteries in Missouri and Pennsylvania in recent weeks. This week, Jewish schools in Florida also have received automated bomb threats.

Vandalism and threats target Jewish institutions

Growing outcry against a recent spate of anti-Semitic acts and threats pushed President Trump to denounce the rising violence, calling it “a sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

In all, more than 70 bomb threats have been called in to Jewish institutions since January, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

According to data from the Virginia State Police, anti-Semitic acts are the most common hate crimes motivated by religion in the commonwealth.

“There’s something very wrong in our national climate when hateful individuals feel empowered to threaten our children like this,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) wrote in a statement. “This recent wave of anti-Semitism is cowardly, it’s disgusting, and we must make it clear that we as Virginians unequivocally reject it.”

Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of the Charles E. Smith school, said in an interview that recent threats at other schools led his administration to be more vigilant.

“Given what’s been going on around the country, we were very well prepared,” he said. “We knew exactly what to do.”

Malkus said police arrived less than five minutes after the school notified them about the threat.

He said that the perpetrators’ goal appears to have been to “raise tension and anxiety in the community, and unfortunately that’s what happens when you have these threats.”

Malkus noted that dozens of Jewish institutions have had similar experiences.

“There’s been a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents and threats in the Jewish community over the last year, and I believe that’s directly attributable to the political climate that exists in our country,” Malkus said.

He noted that President Trump last week addressed the recent rise in hate messaging against Jewish groups and condemned the vandalism of Jewish graves.

“I do welcome what the president said,” Malkus said. “He wants to make sure these incidents do not continue. I would like to see more of that in a clearer message.”


De Blasio’s Plan for NYC Schools 

Stuyvesant High School is one of eight New York public high schools that use a standardized test to determine admission. Credit Yeong Ung Yang for The New York Times


By Minh-Ha T. Pham

Ms. Pham is a scholar of Asian-American studies whose child attends New York City public schools.


Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York has introduced a plan to change the way students will be chosen for eight of the city’s elite specialized high schools. Under his proposal, 20 percent of seats at the schools would be reserved for students from under-resourced middle schools who score just below the cutoff score on a standardized test, which is now the sole criterion for entry.

Eventually, his goal is to eliminate the exam, called the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Instead, top students from all of the approximately 600 middle schools in the city would be admitted to the elite high schools. This would make the student bodies of these schools — among them storied institutions such as Stuyvesant and Bronx Science — more closely resemble the city’s wider public school population in terms of race and class.

This is not just a good thing. It’s the right thing.

Unfortunately, some Asian-American parents in New York are protesting this proposal, arguing that it is anti-Asian because it would decrease the number of Asian children in elite schools. They are on the wrong side of this educational fight.

The mayor’s plan isn’t anti-Asian, it’s anti-racist. It would give working-class parents — including Asian-Americans — who can’t afford and shouldn’t have to find ways to afford expensive test prep programs a fairer chance that their child will be admitted into what’s known as a specialized high school. True, taking a test prep course doesn’t guarantee admission to such a school, but it does offer clear benefits and is widely understood to be essential to test-takers.

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