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School That Let T-Mobile Install 9 Cell Antennas Near Playground Locked Into 31-Year Contract

A private school in San Diego signed a contract with T-Mobile to install hidden antennas only 20 feet above the school’s playground. Parents said they didn’t find out until a parent accidentally saw them while the school was closed for a holiday break.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles on how the wireless industry targets schools for wireless infrastructure installation. Part 1 covered the recent surge and why parents are fighting back. Part 2 covers how T-Mobile put nine cell antennas on a private school in San Diego without parents’ knowledge or consent.

Parents whose kids attend the Rock Academy in San Diego said they’re angry that school leaders didn’t tell them about a deal the school signed with T-Mobile to put nine hidden cell antennas on the side of the school’s building.

The antennas are roughly 50 feet above the school’s preschool playground with the closest antennas only about 20 feet above the playground.

The private school, operated by the Rock Church — one of the largest megachurches in the U.S. — serves over 400 K-12 students and 100 preschoolers. The school and church share a campus.

Rock Church leaders in April 2022 secretly signed a contract with T-Mobile giving the telecom company permission to install the antennas, according to Rock Academy parent Laura Buckley.

“The problem is not just that the Rock failed to inform parents and staff before signing the contract,” Buckley, whose kids are in third, sixth and eighth grade, told The Defender. “They were presumably never going to disclose the antennas at all.”

During installation, the school and T-Mobile hid the antennas behind tarps. “Now they are hidden behind a facade that matches the building,” she said.

“No one would ever have known about the nine antennas had it not been for a mother who happened to be on campus at Christmas break [in early January 2023] when the tarp was down.”

The mother snapped a photo, Buckley said. “That is how people started finding out.”

Tiffany Fletcher, a mother whose sixth grader attends Rock Academy, told The Defender, “Word started spreading like wildfire.”

School tries to be ‘hush hush’

Fletcher, who launched a petition against the antennas, said parents demanded a town hall meeting. The petition so far has garnered more than 1,000 signatures.

School leaders on March 2, 2023, held a meeting with parents, but overall “tried to be hush-hush” about the matter, she said, as the Rock Church was concerned about “managing its brand.”

Parents then “raised a fuss” by flyering the church’s congregation — an estimated 15,000 people — with information about the issue. “That got school leaders’ attention,” Fletcher said.

School leaders in March 2023 told T-Mobile the company couldn’t come on the premises.

Parents filed a legal action — a writ of mandate — against the City of San Diego asking the city to disallow the installation of the antennas at the school.

“We tried every issue we could — permitting, fire risk, etc.” That action is currently on appeal, Fletcher said.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile in January sued the Rock Church and Academy, arguing the Rock committed a breach of contract when it denied T-Mobile’s access to school grounds.

T-Mobile brought a motion for an injunction to access the property. In April, a judge granted T-Mobile’s request, ruling that Rock Church couldn’t legally block T-Mobile from the property.

The company plans to activate the antennas after Memorial Day when the school session ends.

Risking kids’ health and safety in exchange for money is ‘shameful’

Rock Church and Academy’s contract with T-Mobile — which Buckley said she has seen but is not publicly available — stipulates that the telecom company pay the church roughly $4,000 a month for using its school property.

Mei Ling Nazar, Rock Church’s director of public relations and social media, said the agreement was made to generate additional income for the ministry, reported Point Loma-OB Monthly.

“It is shameful for a Christian church to risk the health and safety of the children it has a duty to protect in exchange for $4,000 a month,” Buckley said. “Shameful.”

As The Defender previously reported, there are many independent peer-reviewed studies about serious health risks from exposure to wireless radiation, including:

  • A 2017 study found living near a cell tower was linked to blood changes, which are considered biomarkers predictive of cancer.
  • A 2018 study showed adolescents exposed to higher levels of wireless radiation had delayed fine and gross motor skills, spatial working memory and attention compared with those exposed to lower radiation levels.
  • A 2015 study found higher rates of Type 2 diabetes mellitus in elementary students exposed to higher levels of wireless radiation compared with those exposed to lower radiation levels.

The telecom workers’ union, Communications Workers of America, also warns workers that wireless radiation can cause sterility, eye damage, central nervous system harm and other “serious biological effects.”

The Rock Church and Academy said in a statement they “did not foresee safety or structural issues that could harm our community.”

School leaders also didn’t foresee that the contract they signed would leave them with so little wiggle room, Fletcher said. “The school is failing to recognize that the contract is written solely for T-Mobile’s benefit.”

Buckley agreed. The contract includes a series of renewal periods — but only on the side of T-Mobile. “The 31st year of the contract is the first year the Rock can get out,” she said.

The contract also gives T-Mobile permission to change or increase the number and type of antenna without the Rock’s approval, Buckley said. “The antennas can become 5G at any time.”

“This is significant,” she added, “because according to the Rock’s spokesperson on radiofrequency [RF] radiation, Derek Falconer, radiation from 5G antennas can travel around corners.”

Leaders apologize, propose mitigation plan

The Defender asked the Rock Academy’s top administrator, Chuck Leslie, if and why he had considered it unimportant to inform families that the contract was being considered.

Leslie declined to respond other than to share an official statement, released on May 20, from the Rock Church and Academy, stating, “We realized that it was a mistake to sign the contract without first having a discussion with staff and parents and we sincerely apologized, and apologize, for the stress that this has caused.”

In the statement, the Rock Church and Academy said they proposed two alternative sites to T-Mobile, but the company refused.

The church and school also said they tried multiple times to negotiate an end to the contract and have the antennas removed, but Fletcher said that was untrue.

Buckley agreed. “To the best of my knowledge,” she said, “the Rock still has never made a written settlement offer to T-Mobile for $1.”

‘Too little, too late’

Since T-Mobile has the legal right to activate its antennas, the Rock Church and Academy promised to implement a “mitigation plan” to prevent RF radiation from the antennas from impacting its campus.

The plan includes installing RF-shielding materials, such as metal-based window tinting on the sides of the building where the antennas are located and copper-mesh shade structures over the preschool playground.

School leaders also said they hired the RF radiation mitigation company, EMF & RF Solutions, to measure RF radiation levels before the antennas were activated and to track RF radiation levels in the future.

Fletcher questioned if the school leaders will follow through with their mitigation plan. “They’re only attempting to remediate to appease the parents who are upset,” she said.

She also pointed out that the Rock Church and Academy’s plan proposed RF shielding only for its campus, even though the antennas will be directly pointing at three neighboring charter schools — High Tech High, High Tech Elementary, High Tech Middle — and a local grocery store.

“So as they are ‘protecting’ their own school, they’re radiating hundreds of other children,” she said. “That’s not very neighborly.”

Moreover, their efforts are “too little, too late” in most families’ eyes, Fletcher said. “Their lack of transparency and deceitful covert actions have lost many families’ trust.”

An estimated 30 to 50 families are pulling their kids from Rock Academy, according to a May 20 FOX 5 and KUSI News report.


‘There must be something we don’t know’

Buckley said the Rock Church’s founding pastor, Miles McPherson, has publicly remained “virtually silent” over the last year and a half as Rock Academy parents repeatedly voiced concerns that the antennas’ RF radiation might harm their kids.

This puzzled her because McPherson is a former NFL player known for being health-conscious.

When she asked about it, Rock leadership told Buckley that McPherson won’t talk about it from his platform because he doesn’t want to be seen as “anti-cell antennas.”

She said:

“He has about 1.5 million people that listen to him, I’ve been told.

“Why doesn’t he want to say, ‘Hey, I messed up in allowing these antennas on our building without running it by Rock staff and families. There are many people in our Rock community who don’t feel they are safe. Will you please partner with me now to help fix this mistake so we can keep our community together?’

“I don’t understand why he is so afraid of looking like he’s against cell antennas when his community is being broken apart due to this. There must be something we don’t know.”

Buckley learned from the Rock leadership that they spoke to telecom lobbyists. She wonders if the lobbyists somehow “got to them.”

“The Rock appeared to want the antennas removed,” she said, “and then they just crumbled on the 5-yard line and walked away. It’s unexplainable. It’s either all about the money or something else we don’t know about.”

The Defender reached out to Nazar and Santiago Ruiz, the Rock Church’s executive pastor, to clarify whether McPherson’s silence was due to concerns about being perceived as “anti-cell antennas” or something else.

The Defender also asked if the Rock Church — or McPherson, himself — would be willing to publicly share information that would put to rest speculation about their possible industry ties.

Nazar and Ruiz did not respond by our publication deadline.

Next in this series: Florida parents stop a cell tower from going up by disproving a false claim that the tower was needed to keep school kids safe in an emergency.

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