In Conversation With…features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a staff member of the Kentucky School Advocate.
This month’s conversation is with Steve Sims, structural branch manager in the division of Environmental Services in Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture. Sims, who is also a board certified entomologist, discusses the latest in integrated pest management, including how to respond to the growing bedbug problem. IPM encompasses the use of all available pest control methods, but emphasizes minimized use of chemical pesticides.
Q. Integrated Pest Management may not be the hottest topic in education, but it deserves attention. Why is this an important subject for schools?
A. Integrated Pest Management is important to schools because it saves them money. There are different definitions of IPM. In solving any insect problem, you have to first identify the insect, then you can prescribe a solution, and monitor the results. If the pest problem is ground beetles or lady bugs, for example, you check the door sweeps, gaps around windows and fix those ... tighten up windows with felt to where the pest cannot enter and you don’t lose heat and air conditioning ... you are using fewer pesticides and you may notice a reduction in your heating/cooling bill. So it works in both areas.
New school buildings don’t typically have the same problems. The structure is so new and tight that there are not a lot of issues. The older school buildings, and a lot of districts have those, have problems associated with age.
IPM has been around for years and it works. The hard part, with the budget cuts, the maintenance staff is already spread thin and taking care of things like door sweeps is not a high priority, but it takes time and money. It’s hard to get it done when there’s always another spill in a classroom or some other area of the building. So prioritizing items in each building is what really helps the IPM process.
Q. I didn’t think about how budget reductions may have affected this area.
A. The maintenance staff is always shorthanded. They’ve got to make their equipment last longer and have to do more with less; it’s just a fact of life. Repairs on older buildings, some may think, “We’re going to move into a new building in three years, so why are we going to spend money on it?” They’re not going to do a major door replacement or other projects, so it’s an uphill battle in a lot of ways. This takes you back to prioritizing where the money goes.
Q. Do you have any tips for school districts that find themselves in that situation?
A. In the summer months, keeping the grass cut back. I sometimes compare schools to food manufacturing plants. They allow zero pests and a school should be similarly close to that. Food manufacturing plants do not allow grass to grow within 2 feet of the building. They may even pour concrete, or put down pea gravel. It keeps the weeds away, keeps the ant population down, it keeps the rodents away, and those are features that you may see on the newer schools.
So just trim the grass down; have your turf management crew – that is properly certified – use a herbicide in the summer when no kids are around, and establish the grass-free zone around the building. It saves time trimming the grass and weeds around the school building.
Q. What about on the other end of the spectrum? You’ve talked about working with an older building. Are there things a school district can do when planning a new building that will mitigate future pest problems?
A. A pest control consultant needs to sit down early with the architects because some of them like to build a real eye-catching facility. But birds like these eye-catching facilities, also. I’ve been at numerous schools where there’s not one bird nest, there are 10-20. So the maintenance people are out there hosing it down every morning because pigeons make a mess. And when their young are raised, they will keep coming back until the structure is altered or they are eliminated. So the design stage is where a lot of the problems can be tightened up and eliminate future pest problems.
Get someone in there early, to bird-proof it before they get large numbers. Birds are more of a sanitation issue than a health hazard until you tear down the nests. Whoever tears down the nests, they need to wear a dust mask because it’s when the droppings get dry and generate dust that they can get hazardous.
Any school district where the maintenance people do their own pesticide applications, they have to be certified. Kentucky is one of the few states that has an IPM certification program. Category 7-A is for general pest and termite work, but when you work in schools, day cares, nursing homes and hospitals, the sensitive accounts, it requires a category 7-B certification.
Q. Is there anything new in IPM that schools should be aware of?
A. With budget cuts, a lot of districts are trying to cut back on hiring outside companies. And anyone who applies any pesticides in a school has to be certified. We have commercial and noncommercial applicators and schools would be non-commercial. They are required to have the same certification as the commercial for-hire applicators, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have the same level of knowledge.
Inspectors from the Department of Agriculture try to get around to all the schools and make sure everybody is properly certified and parents notified.
Q. Are there any policies or actions that school boards can adopt that will make schools safer and healthier for students?
A. We haven’t discussed what the current laws are. You have maintenance staff turnover every year and you have new people in charge of maintenance, new teachers, new hires. Some of them may have heard it before, but the law is; before pesticides can be applied within the school, parents have to be notified 24 hours in advance if the students are going to be in the school within 24 hours after the application. The only time prior notification is not a requirement is if it’s an emergency – maybe wasp nests, yellow jackets, stinging or biting insects that are a true emergency. Parents must be notified after the emergency application.
The Department of Agriculture has seven inspectors and one supervisor who cover the state. They are more than happy to stop by and go over rules, regulations, and certification requirements. The education classes and testing schedules are all available on our website.
Q. Bedbugs are something people worry about when they travel. Is this an issue for schools and why should they be concerned about them?
A. Educating students, teachers and parents is the best way to combat the problem. Fortunately in Kentucky we have one of the leading bedbug researchers in the nation, Dr. Mike Potter, a entomology professor at the University of Kentucky. He works closely with our certification education classes that we hold across the state and has the latest information about bedbugs, termites, roaches, and other pests. These classes are an excellent source of knowledge and are listed on our website. These classes are available to all commercial, noncommercial applicators and other interested parties.
Q. Why are we seeing such an increase in bedbugs?
A. The United States was one of the few countries that did not have a bedbug problem until recent years. A lack of public awareness and education has left most people unprepared to recognize the signs of infestations, allowing bed bugs to reproduce, disperse, and become more difficult and expensive to manage. Their numbers continue to grow and there is not an easy answer on the horizon.
Q. What can schools do to reduce the risk of students and staff being exposed to bedbugs at school and carrying them home?
A. Just like when you travel to a motel, keep everything up off the floor. Reduce the amount of stuff you carry back and forth. Homework areas should have adequate lighting and preferably not in the bedroom. Bedbugs are not known to travel great distances, but they are great hitchhikers.
Q. What can schools do?
A. The bedbug infestation most likely is at home and now it comes through the school’s front door. The site of the infestation is most likely the bedroom, where students study, where the backpack goes, where their coat is, where their shoes are. It’s on or near the bed, it’s on the floor, and that’s where the bedbugs move around. Very seldom is the bedbug on the person. It’s in their backpacks, in their coats, in gym bags, all the things carried back and forth. It’s just something that happens. The student that’s bringing them in may or may not have visible bites.
Bedbugs are not something everyone is going to talk about. That’s the last thing anyone is going to do, admit it, and that makes the problem even worse.
Here’s where the school nurse needs to be observant because she’s probably the only one qualified to know the difference.
Bedbugs in the school, it gets alarming when you hear about it, but get educated. Sustaining a infestation is not likely to happen in a school setting because nobody sleeps there. To do a pesticide application to the whole school is not recommended.
First make sure they are bedbugs – do a detailed inspection to determine the size and scope of the infestation; second, prescribe a plan of action; and third, monitor for results. If the source of the infestation continues to be a problem, their backpacks, jackets, etc., may need to be placed in a dryer upon their arrival at school.
If students and teachers are worried about carrying them home, they can take their books out of their backpacks and put the backpack, coat, etc., in the dryer as soon as they get home. Twenty minutes on high will kill all forms of the bedbug.
— For more information about training classes or certification testing click here. For additional information about bed bugs click here.