The Governing Council of Thurgau Canton to the Parliament
Frauenfeld, 4 August 2008
Parliamentary Inquiry on Wireless LAN at Elementary, Junior and Secondary High Schools by Fabienne Schnyder from 10 June 2008
Dear Mr. President:
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:
WLAN or Wireless Local Area Networks just like cell phones and their base stations belong to the so-called "radio frequencies," that is, the data to be transferred between devices are not transmitted via a cable but via the airwaves by means of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. The Department of Nonionizing Radiation of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health publishes various information sheets on electromagnetic fields (EMF) including WLAN1. It says there that currently it is not known whether electromagnetic fields of wireless networks pose a health risk. In general, WLAN devices emit rather low levels of radiation. However, it goes on to say that it is only prudent to exercise caution especially when using WLAN devices held close to the body such as PDAs, laptops, and VolP phones. The same applies to cell phones and other mobile phones. The critical attitude of the public is probably less based on available studies and practical experiences than rather in the face of scientific uncertainty on a fundamentally defensive attitude toward EMF-emitting transmitters and base stations. This weariness, however, dissolves quite quickly when small mobile devices that can communicate wirelessly with each other are actually used such as cell phones, laptops, and peripheral devices. The attitude of the public is not free of contradictions, which is reflected in the often strong opposition against cell phone base stations and the simultaneous widespread use of cell phones. The opposition of parents concerned about wireless network installations in schools is also not free of contradictions when the same parents outfit their children with cell phones and other electronic devices whose radiation exposes their children for even longer periods of time than just during schooltime.
Against the background of these statements, the Governing Council replies to the posed questions as follows:
The Governing Council has issued regulations concerning electrosmog prevention for the administration of Thurgau canton on 2 May 2006. The cantonal schools are bound by the scope of the regulations. Public elementary schools are free to make their own decisions regarding this issue, but it is recommended that they also follow the regulations. When there is no compelling reason for mobility, a conventional wired network should be given preference over a wireless network installation. From a long-term perspective, wired networks may even be more advantageous than wireless ones.
The use of wireless networks varies among cantonal schools. Frauenfeld cantonal school forgoes the use of wireless networks on principle. Exceptions are made during public and special events. On those occasions the access point (base station) is specifically installed for these events and removed immediately afterward. Romanshorn cantonal school and teacher grammar school use wireless networks with restrictions as to time and space. In contrast, Kreuzlingen cantonal school finds the application of wireless networks indispensible. At the vocational colleges of the canton, individual classrooms are fitted with wireless networks. In the cafeteria and in the new buildings of the Thurgau University of Teacher Education (PHTG), wireless networks are being installed now. In the old buildings and in the department of natural sciences, selected rooms are also slated for the installation of access points. There is no overview of wireless network installations in public schools. But it can be assumed that right now only very few schools have wireless networks installed.
The Governing Council recommends for schools to forgo the use of wireless networks when the structural makeup of a given school building allows for a wired network.
a) Pursuant to § 19 of the Fee Structure Ordinance (RB 411.611), the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs has issued regulations about the requirements for school buildings. These regulations could be amended with instructions about conventional wired networks and wireless installations, if need be. However, they would only apply to new school buildings or renovation projects but not already existing school buildings. As a general rule, the school board is responsible for the provision of a school's infrastructure; it must also communicate its decision regarding the use of wireless networks to the public of its school district. It is quite possible that the public's acceptance of wireless networks varies in individual school districts. Without a legal basis, the Governing Council cannot interfere in the decision-making responsibility of school boards regarding the outfitting of school buildings.
b) In executing its responsibilities, the Governing Council has issued the regulations concerning electrosmog prevention for all its employees of the cantonal administration. The current task sharing between the canton and the school districts does not allow the Governing Council to issue directives concerning electromagnetic pollution in place of the school authorities responsible for it.
The President of the Governing Council
The State Clerk
[Translator's Notes: This is an unofficial translation. The original Swiss document is available at http://www.grgeko.tg.ch/docs/00000064_00000E85_WEB.pdf
The Governing Council is the highest executive authority in a canton. Cantonal schools are roughly equivalent to high schools.]