School district set to cancel cell tower contracts

School district set to cancel cell tower contracts

Michele Ellson
Maya Lin School

The school board is preparing to cancel contracts that put cell phone antennae on top of a pair of Alameda schools.

In a closed-door session, the board opted to direct school district staff to notify the owners of cell antennae installed atop Maya Lin School and Will C. Wood Middle School that their contracts will be terminated, board president Margie Sherratt announced at the start of Tuesday’s school board meeting.

A vote to terminate the contracts – both held by AT&T – is set to take place on September 23, Sherratt announced. She said the contracts would be terminated in a year.

Board member Trish Herrera Spencer was set to ask her dais-mates to direct staff to terminate all of the district’s contracts permitting cell antennae on schools, a referral that was taken off the board’s agenda after the closed-door decision was made.

Families at Maya Lin School have waged a months-long campaign to rid the school of the cell antennae, which they fear could impact the health of students and staff at the school. Some Maya Lin parents also questioned whether the contracts were entered legally.

Schools leaders said they were looking at the contracts, and representatives with AT&T, which holds a contract permitting its antennae on the roof of Maya Lin, met with families there and addressed the school board. But board members expressed frustration with what they called a lack of answers from the company and the lack of progress toward resolving the controversy.

The district held four contracts with cell phone service providers permitting antennae on top of schools, which generated an estimated $145,000 a year for the school district. In addition to the annual payments, AT&T agreed in 2012 to give the district $45,000 that was used to pay for playground equipment at Maya Lin and another school.

The contract permitting AT&T to install cell antennae at Wood contains language allowing Alameda Unified to cancel with a year’s notice after its initial five-year term, which has long since passed. The district’s other three contracts only allow the district to cancel early if state or federal officials certify that they pose a health risk or if the cell service provider defaults on their terms.

The American Cancer Society has said the antennae are unlikely to cause cancer and that exposure from them is “typically many times lower” than from using a cell phone, though it also notes that few human studies have focused on the potential risk posed by the towers.

With the cancellation of the AT&T contracts for antennae on Maya Lin and Wood and Sprint/Nextel’s decision during the prior school year to cancel its contract for cell antennae at Wood, the only remaining antennae will sit atop Alameda High School.

Some Alamedan readers informed of the board’s decision on Facebook cheered the announcement, while others questioned what they see as a lack of science supporting the concerns.

In other school board news, the board signed off on unaudited financials for the 2013-14 school year that showed the district spent more money than it took in. District staffers attributed the deficit to rising special education costs and salary increases. Audited figures are due out at the end of January.

The board voted 4-1 to accept the numbers, with Spencer casting the lone no vote. She said she objected to the district’s having run a deficit.

School board members also offered some resistance to a staff proposal to hold off on accepting a $15 million plan that details how the district might install solar panels at almost all of its schools. Chief Business Officer Robert Clark said the district should first focus on energy efficiency measures so that the power generated by panels isn’t wasted, and he asked the board to sign off on a broader energy plan that considers other options besides solar.

Spencer said she supported Clark’s proposal to put together a comprehensive energy plan. But board member Mike McMahon said he wants the plan to become official so it can be used if a bond passes and board members decide they want solar at some schools, while board member Niel Tam questioned where the money to pay for a broader plan would come from.

Related: Maya Lin School parents seek removal of cell tower

Schools leaders push for removal of cell towers


Submitted by Richard Hausman (not verified) on Wed, Sep 10, 2014

So, for some reason the School Board members decided in secret to accede to parents who, without any scientific evidence, feared the towers might harm children and staff. If those same parents were fearful that the teaching of evolution might harm their children, would the School Board members similarly meet in secret and accede to those parents, too? If not, I suspect none of them could adequately explain how one differs from the other.

Submitted by Jessica (not verified) on Wed, Sep 10, 2014

California Education Code section 17534 limits agreements with school districts like these to five years. Do you want our school district to violate state law? Do you want cell companies to think that they are above state law? Because of this state law violation, there is no need to allow the cell companies 12-months notice.

Submitted by Kate Quick (not verified) on Wed, Sep 10, 2014

I have asked representatives of the concerned parents why, if the towers are felt to be so pernicious, no one in the neighborhoods were consulted. We who live next to these schools are exposed 24/7, and yet we were not informed of their concerns. The response to this request was anger towards me for questioning their opposition to the towers. I have read up on the health effects, and can find no studies that offer proof of the danger. I asked them to give me information, which has not been forthcoming either. I know there are parents who are very concerned and at least one who has a child with an illness that they feel may be associated with the issue. But, I would like to see the studies they are relying on, so, as a person who lives next to Maya Lin, I can form an opinion. The only information I have is that cell phone towers are banned from school sites in European countries. Since many parents insist that their children carry cell phones so they can be contacted during the day, how is that not being questioned as well as a health hazard? Lots of unanswered questions on this issue, I think.

Submitted by Dr. Sarah Feldman (not verified) on Wed, Sep 10, 2014

Here a few links with resources to read about the risks to children due to cell towers/cell phone/cell antennas.
"Radio Frequencies emitted from mobile phone towers will have deleterious medical effects to people within the near vicinity according to a large body of scientific literature. Babies and children will be particularly sensitive to the mutagenic and carcenogenic effects of the radio frequency radiation. It is therefore criminal to place one of these aerials on or near a school."
- Helen Caldicott, MD, Pediatrician and co-founder of Physicians For Social Responsibility
A 2006:A NIH study showed that young children are particularly vulnerable because their still growing skull structure and soft tissue is significantly less dense and still developing. The NIH found that children absorb 60% more radiation into their heads and brains than an adult.

Submitted by Leona Toves (not verified) on Wed, Sep 10, 2014

The problem with these cell phone towers is that there have been no long term studies or research done their effects on humans and the info out there is on cell phone usage and not towers. My child's physiology and health is not worth the gamble based on unchartered, unstudied territory especially since most of what they are basing on as safe is radiation levels and not EMF data. Please, Alamedans keep your cell towers, just not on top of schools. In fact, if these cell towers are so safe, please move them move them to the top of City Hall, the library, private commercial buildings, just keep them off of our schools. Also, AT&T acknowledged that they no longer put these tower on school, if that's the case they won't have any problems relocating this to other areas in Alameda. The 2nd largest school district in the country,Los Angeles Unified, has over 900 school and they don't allow cell towers on their school so why should we. I say we follow LA Unified and join the International Fire Fighters Association and require a moratorium “until a study with the highest scientific merit and integrity on health effects of exposure to low-intensity [radio frequency/microwave] radiation (and EMF) is conducted and it is proven that such towers are not hazardous to the health of our members." In our case, the health of our kids.

A sampling of excerpts or titles from the peer-reviewed studies: “Two ecological studies of cancer in the vicinity of base stations…“(Kundi and Hutter 2009); “Long-term exposure to magnetic fields and the risks of Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer” (Davinipour and Sobel 2009); “Electromagnetic fields and DNA damage” (Phillips, Singh, and Lai 2009); “Disturbance of the immune system by electromagnetic fields — A potentially underlying cause for cellular damage and tissue repair and reduction…” (Johansson 2009); “Electromagnetic pollution from phone masts — Effects on wildlife” (Balmori 2009).

Submitted by Jeannie (not verified) on Fri, Sep 12, 2014

In Alameda, T-Mobile got a permit to install a cell phone antenna atop Alameda High School. But the firm operated the site without the final inspection required by the Division of the State Architect, said division spokesman Eric Lamoureux. As a result, the school district could be liable for accidents resulting from the installation, he said.

This is becoming a global concern. This is just one of the latest news pieces on cell phone towers/antennas on schools. The parents in a Dallas school district were at least informed recently of a potential cell phone antenna installation on their school, so they could voice their concerns before it was put in. This is not the case with any cell phone antenna atop any school in Alameda. In fact the district to date has not notified any parent formally of their existence atop Maya Lin Elementary, Wood Middle or Alameda High, nor has the district put in writing what action they plan to take to remove them or noticed parents on these proposed steps.