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MCPS places controversial cellular towers at predominantly high-poverty schools, stats show

Cellular tower. (WJLA photo)

GERMANTOWN, Md. (WJLA) – Municipalities around the country are looking for ways to make ends meet. In Montgomery County, school administrators are considering construction of another cellular phone tower, all to increase revenue.

Currently, 11 schools in the MCPS system have cell towers on their property. If approved, Neelsville Middle School in Germantown would be the 12th.

Janis Sartucci is a leading member of the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County. She argues schools with high poverty rates are more likely to get stuck with the controversial antennas.

According to MCPS' own data, 81 percent of its cell phone towers are at schools where at least one-third of students are eligible for the free and reduced price meals (FARMs). To put that in perspective, less than 5 percent of students at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, which successfully fought off construction of a cell tower in 2010, are in financial need.

"The cell towers are going up in the poorer neighborhoods. We're seeing this also in Baltimore City, in Anne Arundel and in Prince George's counties. The same trend is appearing all across the state," Sartucci remarked.

Yet MCPS contends its cell tower program makes money, netting nearly $900,000 in fiscal year 2014 alone. Administrators also insist they listen to parents and students before reaching a final decision.

"If the community doesn't want a tower at the school, it isn't built there, plain and simple," MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig said in an email sent to ABC 7 News.

"Plain and simple, the community didn't want this tower and it's up. So, if we're going to talk facts, the fact is this community did not want this cell tower and it stands behind us," Sartucci remarked during an interview at Daly Elementary School in Germantown.

According to the American Cancer Society, there's no evidence that cell phone towers harm human health. Even so, opponents like Sartucci challenge MCPS to provide the name of anyone who has specifically requested a cell phone tower be built next to their school.

"We've never seen a neighborhood in Montgomery County say, 'Yes, put a cell tower on our neighborhood school.' So, my question is, 'Why do we keep doing this? Why do we keep torturing neighbors? Why do we keep torturing parents?' Our neighborhoods have spoken loud and clear, they don't want these on their local school sites," Sartucci concluded.

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