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USA: Family sues Fay School in Southboro, claims Wi-Fi made son ill
24 aug. 2015
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WORCESTER – The family of a student at the Fay School in Southboro has filed a lawsuit claiming the school’s strong Wi-Fi signal caused the boy to become ill.
The unidentified plaintiffs, referred to as “Mother” and “Father” in the complaint, said their 12-year-old son, “G,” suffers from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome, a condition that is aggravated by electromagnetic radiation. The boy was diagnosed after he frequently experienced headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, and other symptoms while sitting in class after the school installed a new, more powerful wireless Internet system in 2013, the suit says.
The school has said in response that its Wi-Fi signals were found in a recent investigation to be well below the levels required by federal safety standards.
The family is asking for an injunction from U.S. District Court that would require the Fay School to either switch to Ethernet cable Internet, turn down the Wi-Fi signal in G’s classroom, or make some other accommodation, which they say the school has refused to do to date. The suit also seeks $250,000 in damages, court records show.
G’s family’s lawyer, John J.E. Markham, II, of Boston law firm Markham & Read, on Monday said their top priority is to have the boy, a day student at the school, be able to attend Fay once classes resume Sept. 9. The judge overseeing the case, District Judge Timothy S. Hillman, last Friday scheduled a hearing for Sept. 4 in Worcester for their motion for a preliminary injunction and request for an expedited hearing.
“We’re trying to work with the school,” said Mr. Markham, who declined to reveal any personal details about his clients for privacy reasons. “We’re still hoping to reach a resolution that will allow him to safely be in those classrooms.”
The family says in the lawsuit they would have to withdraw G if the school does not provide their requested accommodations, however – something they don’t want to do, given that G is in the middle of a nine-year plan at Fay that would be interrupted as a result.
Mr. Markham said he wasn't sure if G would suffer long-term damage if he continued to sit in the school's Wi-Fi-equipped classrooms, but said the effects of his EHS are already a painful distraction that ''has affected his ability to do well in class.''
Along with the complaint, the plaintiffs submitted to the court several letters from doctors confirming the adverse health effects the school’s Wi-Fi, which the family says “emits substantially greater radiofrequency/microwave emissions than … more low-grade systems used in most homes,” could be causing illness in a sufferer of EHS.
But whether EHS is a real condition is debatable in the wider medical community; the World Health Organization, for instance, acknowledges the existence of EHS, but clarifies it “is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.”
In a statement released Monday, the Fay School said after hearing the family’s concerns about its Wi-Fi, it hired a company called Isotrope, LLC, which specializes in measurement and analysis of radio communication signals and evaluation of emissions safety compliance, to perform an analysis in January.
“Isotrope found that the combined levels of access point emissions, broadcast radio and television signals, and other RFE emissions on campus ‘were substantially less than one ten-thousandth (1/10,000th) of the applicable (FCC) safety limits,’” the statement says.
The school declined to comment directly on the family’s subsequent lawsuit, citing its policy “to not offer public comment on pending litigation.”
Dr. Jeanne Hubbuch, the Watertown physician who diagnosed G with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, wrote in a letter to the Fay School last August that there was no other medical explanation for his symptoms.
“It is know(n) that exposure to WIFI can have cellular effects. The complete extent of these effects on people is still unknown,” Dr. Hubbuch wrote. “But it is clear that children and pregnant women are at the highest risk. This is due to the brain tissue being more absorbent, their skulls are thinner and their relative size is small.”
She went on to say that “due to biochemical individuality some people are more susceptible to these effects than others,” and advised precautions be taken in the case of G.
But G’s family says in their complaint the Fay School and its head of school, Robert Gustavson, refused their offer to meet and devise a plan to accommodate the boy’s condition. They also say officials at the school threatened to no longer enroll G, who has attended Fay since 2009, if his parents talked about the issue to anyone else at the school.
The family was also unhappy after officials at Fay asked them to have G see another physician, who after speaking to G for 10 minutes and not conducting any tests “pronounced that in his view there was not enough study yet done to link Wi-Fi emissions to symptoms such as those G is experiencing at Fay School,” they say in the complaint.
“This doctor stated in essence that he does not believe in EHS,” the lawsuit says. “Yet he made no alternate diagnosis.”
The family argues the school is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as its own handbook, which they say promises reasonable accommodations for students’ disabilities.
The Fay School is being represented in the case by lawyers Jaimie A. McKean and Sara G. Schwartz from the law firm of Schwartz Hannum PC in Andover. The oldest junior boarding school in the country, it enrolls 475 residential and day students at its 48 Main St. campus, according to the school's website.
27 aug. 2015
Preliminary agreement reached in Southborough Wi-Fi lawsuit
The sides ''reached an agreement that may eliminate the need for an injunction,'' according to a joint filing submitted to U.S. District Court, the Telegram reported. No details about the agreement were made available
For the complaint:
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