Cell Service Towers over Instructional Space for Students

Briarlake Elementary – located at LaVista and Briarlake Roads – is a neighborhood school serving the Northlake community. The school houses the DeKalb program for deaf and hard of hearing students. The regular education students in Briarlake join with these hearing impaired students in an internationally renowned signing choir as well as make fast friends on the two small playgrounds. The hearing and non-hearing worlds of children are bridged and leveled on these playgrounds.

In December 2011, the DeKalb Board of Education approved the erection of a T-Mobile transmission cell tower on the school’s campus in addition to a tower on the grounds of nearby Lakeside High School about a mile away. Of note, many members of the community were unaware of the Board’s approvals.

Not unlike other established communities, numerous “empty-nesters” who once had their children attending these schools are now uninformed about day-to-day school activities. Although such residents no longer have working ties to Briarlake, they are parents who left legacies of their strong support. Over time Briarlake parents have built a lovely garden, a courtyard, an outdoor picnic area, an observation deck and an outdoor classroom on a nature trail. Incoming parent groups have always added to and maintained these areas throughout subsequent years. It is not unusual to find parents and children on the campus after hours and on weekends maintaining the campus and enjoying the playgrounds and the small, well-groomed nature trail.

The footprint of the T-mobile cell tower is 60 feet by 60 feet with an additional 20-foot utility easement and soars to 154 feet in height. Briarlake Elementary has a relatively small campus. In order to accommodate this gigantic structure, the children must either lose one of their playgrounds where Physical Education is taught or lose the outdoor classroom where Environmental Studies occur. The $1,400 T-Mobile monthly fee with a 30-year 3% escalation clause will go back to the DeKalb Schools Central Office to dispose of as they wish. T-Mobile will be able to use and sell expensive bandwidth netting a substantial profit for their company. The only ones who will not profit are the children of Briarlake Elementary.

It is unseemly and unsavory that the Board of Education destroys the children’s Environmental Studies outdoor classroom or the playground where they receive their Physical Education instruction for some monthly income and the opportunity for a company to improve their profitability. When did the “business of education” stop being instruction and become a moneymaking proposition? DeKalb County Schools has clearly lost its focus when they trade critical instructional space for a few pieces of silver.


Click here to sign the petition against cell towers at schools in DeKalb.



We need as many people as possible to plan on attending this hearing! Please tell everyone possible who can attend that their support for this legislation is very important!

State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, will introduce legislation banning construction of the towers near schools because of concerns about radiation safety.

WHAT: Hearing on Proposal to Ban Cellphone Towers on School Properties
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21
WHERE: Room 415 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, across the street from the Georgia State Capitol.

GTCO-ATL will be sending notices to all petition signers, our Facebook follwers as well as the district, state and national PTAs. Please inform as many supporters for this action as possible so that we can prevent any cell towers from going up at any school in our county. The children of DeKalb are counting on us to do the right thing!

Find the AJC article on this topic at:

Sign the “No Cell Towers in DeKalb” petition here:
For more info on cell towers in DeKalb, visit:

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Hosting a dialogue among parents, educators and community members focused on improving our schools and providing a quality, equitable education for each of our nearly 100,000 students. ~ "ipsa scientia potestas est" ~ "Knowledge itself is power"
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19 Responses to Cell Service Towers over Instructional Space for Students

  1. walk to school says:

    I think it would be a travesty for Briarlake to erect a cell tower anywhere on campus as all residents in the area are oppoesed. the original design placed the tower across from david’s and the community across from david’s is also opposed to placement of the tower gher. Let’s not let personal interests in one location over another devide our community. Let’s stay united to fight the placement of the cell tower at any location on the Briarlake campus.

  2. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Bravo! Thank you for a well-written post! It is unconscionable that the DeKalb County School System Board of Education thought nothing of removing an in-use part of Briarlake’s small playground. It puts a new face on the old saying, “Money is the root of all evil.” And make no mistake, evil — true evil — abounds on the DCSS BOE.

    It occurs to me that perhaps the most important thing we — as taxpayers and stakeholders in DCSS — can do right now is to dig our heels in and DEMAND complete financial transparency to include, but not be limited to, an online, open checkbook. We MUST be able to see the flow of money — ALL monies — income and outgo with confirmation by independent (not connected in any way to DCSS) auditors for both DCSS and companies doing business with DCSS.

    The question is — how can we make our transparency demands in a meaningful, newsworthy way that will catch the attention of the national media? It has to be BIG. Simply asking has not worked. As we have seen, the BOE, aided and abetted by District Attorney Robert James and others whose jobs are to protect the public, gets away with with their illegal activities by simply stonewalling. So, it is critical to attract the interest of national media.

    A few ideas:
    1. BOYCOTT T-Mobile. Cancel your contract with T-Mobile and move to another provider. Yes, it incurs a one-time cost. But, think about that this way: T-Mobile is deliberately evading paying taxes to DeKalb County. This causes property taxes to rise for all of us. Year-after-year-after-year. Moving on the another provider will be less costly in the long run. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is using their tax-free status to make quite a lot of money for themselves — for the next 30 years — on the backs of our children and eventually our grandchildren.

    2. Stage a system-wide SICK-OUT. Perhaps on the days that standardized testing is scheduled. This must be carefully planned to have the greatest negative effect on DCSS. I have not yet looked at the AYP waivers Georgia recently received. But, I believe that it used to be that the % of students taking the tests affected AYP. This would be especially effective in elementary and middle grades with little-to-no negative impact on the students. Perhaps the result of a system-wide sick-out would be a state takeover of DCSS — or, better yet, a foot in the door to engineering a break-up of the behemoth DCSS.

    Both of these ideas would teach our children the value of non-violent demands for change through social activism.

    What ideas do you have? Remember — asking nicely has not worked.

    Perhaps John Lewis, a Congressional representative from Metro Atlanta, former chair of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and a piece of living history, would work with us on this? Here’s a middle-grades curriculum on non-violent social activism that features John Lewis (no relation to CLew-less): http://blogs.nysut.org/sttp/2011/06/01/john-lewis-non-violent-activism/

    Meanwhile, Briarlake — how can we help you?

  3. The Deal says:

    Good news!

    Lawmakers will hold a hearing on a proposal to ban cellphone towers from school property.

    State Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, said she plans to introduce legislation banning construction of the towers near schools because of concerns about radiation safety. The DeKalb County School District recently entered an agreement allowing T-Mobile to build towers at nine schools, eliciting an outcry from parents.

    The hearing is at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday in room 415 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, across the street from the Georgia State Capitol.


  4. dekalbdoyenne says:

    You go, Karla Drenner!

  5. walk to school says:

    I was discussing the cell tower situation with my sister that lives in Lilburn. She told me of a cell tower fire in Lilburn adjacent to a daycare. The daycare was evacuated and in the aftermath this cell tower was taken down. I googled on “Rockbridge Road cell tower fire and daycare closing”. I was amazed at the videos and pictures.

    How could anyone want to put our children in danger by placing cell towers so close to schools. This does not even consider the liability the Dekalb County School system is taking on since they are the landowners. Imagine the potential harm not just to the children but also to property. Does the school system have insurance such a disaster should a tower catch on fire and collapse?

  6. dekalbschoolwatch says:


    WHAT: Hearing on Proposal to Ban Cell phone towers on school property
    WHEN: Tuesday, Feb 21, 11:30 AM
    Where: Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 415 (across the street from the state Capitol)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Even in the absence of health issues, it seems illogical and unethical for the Board of Education to ruin instruction for children as they appropriate irreplaceable instructional space for a “for profit” venture. If Paul Womack, the BOE representative for the Briarlake area, or ANY of the BOE members for that matter had taken the time to come to Briarlake to look where the cell tower would go, they would see children having PE in one proposed space and having environmental studies in the other area. What possible reason would convince the Board of Education members that it is right to take away instructional space from students? Why on earth would the Board of Education members do something so detrimental to instruction?

    Appropriating this space is not like appropriating a classroom. If a classroom is taken from students, they can be moved to another classroom or even placed in a trailer and receive the same instruction. But there is NO substitute for a PE field or an environmental outdoor classroom at Briarlake because the campus is so small there is literally NO way to replicate either one of these proposed spaces.

    BOE members need to get out of their fancy offices and come see the outdoor environment of the children that go to Briarlake. The DCSS BOE need to see how they are destroying and impeding instruction with this decision which means nothing to them but so much to the children. They should be forced to explain to the boys and girls of Briarlake why they are taking away their playground/PE field or their nature trail and outdoor classroom. Does Mr. Womack think the children won’t notice that their playground or their outdoor education center has been taken away?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Why don’t they put the cell tower at the Bryant Center (formerly Rehoboth)? The Bryant Center is on Lawrenceville Highway very close to Briarlake. The Bryant Center is only a mile from Briarlake, has plenty of space and has no children or instruction going on there. Between Lakeside and the Bryant Center there should be plenty of coverage in that area.

    The BOE members need to go out during the day and see the impact their decisions are having on the children. Maybe some schools have such large campuses that instructional space is not an issue. Maybe some are like Briarlake with small campuses that will lose instructional space that is irreplaceable. Any school that has to give up irreplaceable instructional space for this “for profit” venture needs to be taken off the list.

    T Mobile should also be ashamed of taking playgrounds and outdoor classrooms from small children.

    Unfortunately for the children, there is enough shame to go around on this one.

  9. We need as many people as possible to plan on attending this hearing! It is TUESDAY at 11:30 a.m. ROOM 415 of the Coverdale Legislative Building across the street from the Capitol.

    Please tell everyone possible who can attend that their support for this legislation is very important! In the meantime, please email your state Representatives to let them know that you are counting on them to pass this legislation to keep cell towers off of school grounds.

    GTCO-ATL will be sending notices to all petition signers, our Facebook follwers as well as the district, state and national PTAs. Please inform as many supporters for this action as possible so that we can prevent any cell towers from going up at any school in our county. The children of DeKalb are counting on us to do the right thing!

    PLEASE REMEMBER: This is NOT just about Briarlake Elementary School… there were 12 schools on the original list and 9 that were approved, but if a single tower goes up at ANY of our DeKalb schools and this legislation does not pass, then we have opened the floodgates and the free money tree for the school board to approve cell towers at ANY and ALL of our schools with protection under FEDERAL legislation.

    The FCC Act of 1996 clearly states that local governments cannot discriminate between providers when approving the permits for cellular communications facilities. This means that once it is approved for one campus and one provider, EVERY cellular company will be on much stronger ground legally to demand that the school system allow them to either co-locate on the existing towers (increasing the amount of radiation per tower) or erect their own towers on ANY public school property.

    If we are okay with turning over property that’s actively being used for education, we are authorizing a new stakeholder in education, taking power away from the citizens of our county. The non-taxpayer revenue does not need to be allocated in any particular fashion and, in other states, it has frequently become a “slush-fund” for the principals and top administrators – a difficult perk for them to give up once they have become accustomed to it.

    Other states have passed legislation banning cell towers from being placed within 1500 feet of any school or home, protecting its citizens from having these towers pop up in the middle of their neigbhorhoods, lowering their property values and potentially creating health risks that include possible increases in various forms of cancer.

    Get the Cell Out – Atlanta, the parent group started in the Brockett Elementary community, is the one that brought the news to Briarlake and other schools over the Summer because we did not want anyone to suffer the same challenges we faced while trying to have our school removed from the list. Thankfully, the board listened and voted to remove our school, but the residents felt strongly that this should not happen at ANY school or in ANY neigborhood. That’s why we have continued speaking out.

    We are providing Ms. Drenner with a copy of the countywide petition as well as the information we have compiled regarding the sucessful legislation in other states. If you have not yet signed the petition, please do so by end of day Monday! http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/GTCO-ATL

    While it is perfectly okay to mention schools by name in your email or in the comments section of the petition, please also remember to mention that you are against this action for ANY school in our county. We must work together as a county to keep cell towers off all our school campuses. Otherwise, your school or community will not be “off” the list, but simply added to the bottom of the list.

    Passing this bill and preventing any construction to begin is the only way we can ensure our schools are safe from the many dangers of RF radiation and the economic impact on the surrounding communities.

    For more information, visit http://www.GETtheCELLoutATL.org
    Or email us at sayno2celltowers@yahoo.com

  10. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Didn’t Womack ever look at the site? His home is a stone’s throw from Briarlake — he could easily walk there. It seems really strange that he would not take a walk and look at the property for feasibility. Worse, I think the contracts were executed without specifying the actual placement of a tower, this may have been left to T-Mobile.

    It doesn’t matter anyway. The reason schools are given a ‘pass’ as far as zoning restrictions is so they can build classroom and other instructional space as needed without having to jump through hoops with the county. It is very twisted that now, exactly the opposite has happened. The school board has chosen to eliminate outdoor instructional space at a very small school in order to allow a for-profit corporation to make money.

  11. Miss Management says:

    Paul Womack = Bull. China Shop.

  12. Anon says:

    The survey stakes for the tower at Jolly Elementary went up about two weeks ago. It looks like it will be right next to the street, taking up a little less than a quarter of the athletic field/playground, not counting whatever access road they build.

  13. Fed Up says:

    Cell towers (under normal circumstances) must be setback from any road by a certain distance. So, if the stakes for the Jolly tower are right next to the road, then it is another example of the school board ignoring the zoning regulations and the county appearing to let them get away with it. Unbelieveable. The zoning laws were put in place for the safety of our citizens. Why would the county officials allow the schools to just ignore them. They are only exempt if building for educational or public use. Cell towers are for commercial use. They should not be legal on school grounds.

    And, as for the reason they don’t want to put the Briarlake tower elsewhere is because they want to be as close to the homes as possible to provide their new 4G technology and because they are escaping the property taxes they would normally have to pay elsewhere AND they got a cheaper land lease rate than they would get elsewhere (our $1400 / month vs. typical $2 – $3K/month on commercial property).

    Even if the school board was doing this for the money, they would have still been screwing up because the deal that was negotiated was terrible – no out clauses for the schools and not nearly enough money for the value the property represented to the cellular industry. Also, there is no clear indication of liability for the access being provided to a regular onslaught of contractors to service the towers in case of an accident, fire or other security issues that frequently occur at cell tower locations.

    Womack suggested that the PTA could have a hand in selecting the site, but T-mobile stated that they would ultimately be the ones to decide the spot that worked best for them. Womack also suggested the PTA use the money to “throw a party.” Shows you just how in touch he is with the needs of our schools, doesn’t it?

    And, by the way, I saw him at the Brairlake Fall Festival in September so he definitely is familiar with the school grounds. It’s likely that this school may be on the potential cut list once they start spending the SPLOST construction funds for new elementary schools which would be why he didn’t care about whether or not they had to give up space. The board members likely know a LOT more than we do about the longer range plans in store for our schools, esp. these older elementary schools that need maintenance and upkeep. They don’t care about history, tradition or neighborhood support – any excuse to build new and funnel money to their construction buddies!

  14. Wow says:

    Don’t forget that this is Womack’s second tenure on the BOE. What incredible hubris and ego it must take for this man to think he is worthy to run for the same office twice. Hundreds of thousands of adults in DeKalb County, but Paul Womack thinks no one can do it better than him, even though he already had his chance. A female neighbor of mine and I were speaking to him after a BOE meeting, and he called her “missy”. And that he knew the business world and school parents did not. He had egg on the face when she told him her high ranking position for a well respected national company. Only thing worse than a fool is an old fool.

  15. I know we don’t get ice storms every year, however having worked under many a tower during my television career, we learned not to park our cars any where near towers during and after ice storms. You should see the size of ice chunks that fell off the tower. One day a chunk fell and destroyed the roof and interior of a Nissan Maxima. Smart move not to put towers near schools.

  16. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    The thing is, he won the election. A majority of the voters in his district endorsed him and sent him there. (He won by about 200 votes in a runoff against Shayna Steinfeld.)

  17. dekalbdoyenne says:

    Does anyone know how many eligible voters were in Paul Womack’s BOE district — and how many of those eligible actually voted in the most recent election which saw him actually beat the far-more-qualified Shayna Steinfeld?

    Shame on T-Mobile for caring more about money than about the children of DeKalb County. Shame on T-Mobile for taking advantage of a pitiful old man who is ignorant about technology and who often appears to be in the early stages of Alzheiner’s disease.

    If I subscribed to cell phone service through T-Mobile, I would be cancelling my T-Mobile subscription and moving to another provider. It would be cheaper in the long-run.

  18. GTCO-ATL says:

    Find your state legislators here: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/state/main/?state=GA
    by entering in your zip code.

    Please email them to pledge your support for legislation that will require any future cell phone towers to be placed a minimum of 1500 feet from a school, daycare or home. This is the setback requirement that has successfully been used in laws that were passed in California, New York and Connecticut. It is more in line with the requirements in other countries that have to subsidize their own healthcare systems (and therefore they recognize the long-term health implications).

    It is the requirement we are working on that we hope one day will pass at a federal level when the FCC Telecommunications Act of 1996 is repealed and replaced with more current safety standards to protect human life.

  19. One thing the last several months have taught me is that the majority of our BOE is NOT interested in our students education. One look at Briarlake told me that there is no room for a tower on that property. Mr. Womack I would love to know what you are getting for pushing this through in the dark of night? These folks on the BOE are too busy buying votes, playing the race and class envy cards and enriching their friends and family.

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