Parents and community members from Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City have formed a coalition against the construction of cell phone towers on public school grounds. The coalition, known as the Maryland Coalition Against Cell Towers on School Grounds, is the latest development in a growing movement against placing […]
Parents and community members from Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City have formed a coalition against the construction of cell phone towers on public school grounds.
The coalition, known as the Maryland Coalition Against Cell Towers on School Grounds, is the latest development in a growing movement against placing cell phone towers on Prince George’s County Public Schools properties. Unlike Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, no cell phone towers have been built yet on public schools in the county.
Local organizers said they hope the coalition will help keep towers off the properties.
“We are trying to galvanize community support and convince the school board that we are not happy about this,” said Charlene Bearisto, a Bowie resident and parent of a Bowie High School student.
Bowie is one of 73 potential school sites that the developer, Milestone Communications, is looking to place is looking to place a tower, according to a 2011 leasing agreement between the Prince George’s County Board of Education and Milestone Communications, the cell phone tower provider. Nothing has been built yet, but building permits for cell phone towers at several schools have been submitted for review.
The coalition has a total of 22 organizations, including the NAACP chapters of Prince George’s County, Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County.
“This is the first time community groups have crossed county lines to work on issues,” said Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP. “I’m really excited about that. We partnered up with organizations against cell phone towers to get an understanding of the issue. After that, we are weighing our options. Our team is on a halt until we collect all of the data.”
The coalition’s organizers said they oppose the towers mainly because of health concerns and lack of transparency about the projects from local school boards.
“The Board didn’t get a good deal and parents were not informed,” Bearisto said. “Taxpayers are paying taxes for education, not for radiation.”
According to the leasing agreement, Milestone will pay the school district an initial $25,000 for each tower and 40 percent of revenue generated from the towers. The money will go towards a general fund, not to specific schools hosting the tower.
Coalition organizers said they are worried about children developing cancer as a result of exposure to radio emissions from the towers.
In a previous Sentinel report, Max Pugh, spokesman for PGCPS said according to the Federal Communications Commission, cell phone towers have not been proven to be a health hazard to nearby residents or students. According to the FCC, the strength of radio frequency emissions decreases as it travels from the top of the antenna to the ground.
“Should the FCC change this position, the Board can revisit this issue at that time,” Pugh said.
Earlier this month, residents and parents, as well as Ross, vocalized their opposition at a Board of Education meeting. More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition sponsored by Safe Schools, a Prince George’s County-based organization against cell towers on school grounds. Most recently, coalition members have spoken at PTSA meetings in the county.
“I find the more people we can get to come on board, the more we can protect ourselves, as well as our kids,” said Perc’ie Rutherford of Upper Marlboro. Rutherford worked to prevent a cell phone tower from going up in his neighborhood in 2008.
“I fought the cell phone tower and I won,” said Rutherford, who collected signatures for a petition and reached out to local politicians. “I want the same for them.”
Coalition members from Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County have had similar success experiences as Rutherford.
Jessica O’Kane, of Odenton, is part of Anne Arundel County Against Cell Towers at Schools (AACoACTS). Like Prince George’s County, Milestone looking to put towers on school properties in Anne Arundel County. In January, she and other members successfully stopped the construction of a cell tower at Piney Orchard Elementary School. Milestone wrote a letter saying the Piney Orchard Elementary school site would not work out, O’Kane said.
“It’s very stressful to fight these fights,” O’Kane said. “We would have moved.”
Janis Sartucci, a Montgomery County resident, led the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County’s efforts to prevent cell phone towers from being built on six school sites in Montgomery County.
In all three counties, the fight against cell phone towers on public school grounds is far from over because each cell phone tower application is reviewed individually.
“Time will show that we were on the right side of the issue,” said Bearisto.