The Associated Press
updated 10/9/2003 9:35:15 AM ET 2003-10-09T13:35:15

A pioneering elementary school district outside Chicago has been sued for installing a wireless computer network by parents worried that exposure to the network’s radio waves could harm their children.

ACCORDING TO the complaint, filed in Illinois state court, parents of five children assert that a growing body of evidence outlines “serious health risks that exposure to low intensity, but high radio frequency radiation poses to human beings, particularly children.”

The Oak Park Elementary School District set up a wireless network to connect its schools to one another in 1995, long before such networks became wildly popular. A spokeswoman for the district, Gail Crantz, said it complies with all government regulations for wireless networks.

Today, the 5,000 students in the district have access to carts of laptop computers to do research on the Internet from their desks, said Steve Chowanski, director of information services for the district.

An estimated 30 million Wi-Fi networks have been installed worldwide, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies wireless products. Brian Grimm, a spokesman for the group, said he is unaware of other similar suits targeting Wi-Fi networks.

According to Chowanski, a small group of parents had complained about the risks of installing wireless networks in the school. In response, the school board said it would continue to monitor research into the safety of the networks but reaffirmed its plan to use Wi-Fi.

“We are not going to do anything different,” Chowanski said. “This is the wave of the future.”

The complaint by the parents was filed on Sept. 26 in the Circuit Court of Cook County in Illinois. A hearing before Judge Nancy Arnold is scheduled for February.

The parents allege that the district failed to examine the health impact that wireless local area networks pose, especially for growing children. They are seeking class action status for their suit, which seeks to halt the use of wireless networks.

Calls to the parents and their lawyers were not immediately returned.

The Wi-Fi Alliance says Wi-Fi networks are safe. The radio waves in a Wi-Fi network use the same frequency as wireless home phones, and have one-thirtieth the power of cordless phones, said Grimm, the spokesman for the group.

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