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School Board members, parents hit redial on cell tower radiation question

It's a subject that is, for lack of a better word, radioactive.

For years, the school district has leased corners of school property to developers for cellular phone towers.

The leases bring in money for the schools.

But are they safe?

A grass roots group of parents holds that, despite the assurances by industry, government and the school district, the science is inconclusive and young children shouldn't be used as guinea pigs.

There are other ways to raise money, these parents say.

As that fundraising ability varies from one community to another, the school district lets principals decide whether or not to accept a lease deal.

Think of that as a nod to school autonomy.

Or . . . a big fat political dodge.

Stacy White, the School Board's newest member, was so intrigued that shortly after being elected in November, he asked for a workshop to review the whole arrangement.

That session will take place Tuesday, at 10 a.m. in the second-floor conference room at school district headquarters.

Questions and comments from the audience will not be allowed, said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.

Still, parents opposed to the towers are paying attention. Some are concerned not just about the towers, but also about increased use of e-readers and iPads in some schools, and the overall exposure to radiation.

The timing is fortuitous.

The state Department of Education is floating a five-year plan to make all education materials electronic. It was received favorably last month by lawmakers who want to save money on books while placing Florida at the forefront of the technology curve. "Florida is poised to transition its instruction to the digital age," says the report's introduction.

To be sure, e-books would lighten the load in that backpack.

But, again, are there health risks? South Tampa mother Leslie Farrell, reading about the state plan, sent us an e-mail asking about eye strain.

"Our pediatrician, supported by several studies, warns us parents not to let our children be in front of any screen for more than two hours a day," she wrote. "This includes TV, computer, cell phone, play devices, etc."

No one can say, as the use of e-books for school is just beginning.

And it doesn't end with electronic textbooks.

The Legislature is also being asked to give more support to online learning, through programs such as the Florida Virtual School. Yes, laugh if you will. My kid used FVS for both Spanish and physical education.

But the pitch that is being given to legislators goes as follows: Florida is short on education money and qualified teachers, especially in the sciences. And in today's economy, we can't afford to allow any child to be limited by what's in the book closet or who's on the faculty.

• • •

It's official: Strawberry Crest High School has a fully authorized International Baccalaureate program. No, I'm not going to call it a programme, that's too pretentious for words. But seriously, the acceptance into the IB organization shows it's possible to get a world class education in Hillsborough County, and these programs are proliferating at the high school, middle school and even elementary school level.

• • •

This last piece of news concerns families getting ready to send their kids to kindergarten. The Hillsborough district has centralized its information about kindergarten roundup days.

Find out everything you need to know about vaccination requirements, school policy and the general kindergarten routine.

Dates and times are listed at www.sdhc.k12.fl.us. Click the bar that says "Kindergarten Roundup."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@sptimes.com.

School Board members, parents hit redial on cell tower radiation question 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 3:30am]
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