Officials with Ripon Unified School District are not saying when a cellular tower could be moved from an elementary school that’s become a center of strife over potential health effects of cell phone radiation.
Parents who suspect that electromagnetic radiation from the tower is linked to cancer cases among students and teachers have asked the school board to discuss the issue at a board meeting. Some parents have made requests to transfer their children to another campus.
And a family has come forward claiming that a loved one was stricken with a brain tumor after attending Weston Elementary School from 2009 to 2012.
Parents who have demanded the removal of the tower from Weston said four students have been diagnosed with tumors since 2017 and three teachers have suffered from cancer.
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In another apparent case, Vincent Raygoza of Modesto said his 22-year-old brother underwent a 12-hour surgery at UCSF medical center to remove a brain tumor last year. Eliasar Raygoza, who attended Weston for three years and went to other Ripon schools, did not recover well following the surgery and requires 24-hour care in a long-term facility in Riverbank, his brother said.
“They don’t know if he will be able to walk or eat on his own again,” Vincent Raygoza said. “He is 22 years old. He does not deserve this.”
The RUSD says it has contractual obligations in a 25-year agreement with Sprint for the tower at Weston, which was installed in 2009. The district and Sprint will have to come to a mutual agreement to resolve the issue, the district says.
“There is not really a cause for us to get out of it,” said Susan Dabranca, executive assistant to RUSD’s superintendent. “We are working with them. We are trying. We wish we had more answers.”
The agreement came at a time when wireless companies were offering revenue to school districts for placing cellular towers on the wide open spaces of campuses. According to documents previously released to a parent, the monthly payments to RUSD began at $1,500 and increase 3 percent every year. The payments are now about $2,000 a month.
A second tower stands on the district office property near Ripon High School. Information on payments for that tower was not available from RUSD. The district has said the revenue is negligible and is not a reason the Weston School tower has stayed put since the controversy erupted in 2017.
The Weston tower supports cell phone and WiFi services for Sprint.
Monica Ferrulli, a leader of the protest whose son required extensive treatment for brain cancer, said Thursday that parents have temporarily halted a protest of keeping their children home from school. A large number of parents kept their children home Monday in protest after a fourth Weston student was diagnosed with a tumor on his liver Friday. About 200 parents attended the school board meeting Monday evening to support speakers who called for removal of the tower.
Ferrulli said many parents have requests to the district office to transfer their children to other campuses. The district did not confirm how many Weston students missed school early this week or how many transfer requests it has received. The district did not respond to a records request from The Modesto Bee seeking information on the Sprint contract.
Board member Chad Huskey said the situation has been difficult for the board to deal with. “It is not easy,” he said. “We get information from a lot of different sources. We are there for the parents.”
Kellie Prime, whose son was diagnosed with a tumor in 2017, announced in a Facebook post a fundraising drive for the family of the 11-year-old boy diagnosed Friday. Bracelets will be sold for $5 each to raise funds to help the family with medical-related expenses, her post said.
The parents, Richard and Ana Rex, said their son, Brad, may need a liver transplant or surgery to remove the tumor. The family lives across the street from Weston School, and his son’s class is near the cell tower.
Before coming down with symptoms, Eliasar Raygoza was working full-time for a business delivering beverages to supermarkets, his brother said.
He started having fainting spells, lost weight from his 185-pound frame, and was taken to emergency rooms, where doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him. Since the surgery to remove the nonmalignant tumor at UCSF, he has not been able to sit up or feed himself and has suffered from a disorder causing a severe drop in blood pressure, Vincent Raygoza said.
Ellie Marks, director of the California Brain Tumor Association in the Bay Area, said tumors stemming from cell phone radiation may emerge 10 to 30 years after exposure. At schools with cell towers, children are exposed to the electromagnetic radiation for 30 hours a week or more, she noted.
“They should not be around children,” said Marks, an outspoken critic of the wireless industry who has testified before Congress on the suspected health effects. “The radiation is absorbed deep in their bodies. We have thousands of studies proving this radiation is causing thousands of tumors at thousands of times below the (Federal Communications Commission) exposure limits.”
Marks said some school districts have broken the contracts with wireless companies to remove cellular towers. She said she knows of no instances in which the companies have sued.
Sprint has said the company is working with the school district in Ripon to address the concerns in the community. The 30,000-student Modesto City Schools said Thursday that it does not have cellular phone towers on its campuses.