An Ounce of Prevention! IPM for Schools and Child Care Facilities

For school and child care facility staff, parents, and pest management professionals. Everyone has a role in IPM to prevent and manage pests in and around schools and child care facilities.
An Ounce of Prevention! IPM for Schools and Child Care Facilities - Articles


Introduction - What is Integrated Pest Management?

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a proactive approach to managing pests that focuses on preventing infestations and monitoring for pests. IPM relies on accurate identification and a basic understanding of the target pests (insects, weeds, disease-causing pathogens, etc.) This information is used to implement a management strategy where necessary measures are combined to control current pest problems and prevent or minimize recurrence. Careful and effective pest management is an integral part of safety at schools and child care facilities.

Why is IPM Important for Schools and Child Care Facilities?

While some pests are simply nuisances, others can contaminate food, affect health and damage property if left unmanaged. Stings or bites from many insect pests, such as fire ants and yellow jackets, are venomous, cause pain and can result in allergic reactions. Cockroaches and their remains, bed bugs and many weeds are known sources of allergens that are asthma triggers. Pests such as cockroaches, mosquitoes, flies, ticks, fleas, rodents, and birds can be involved in spreading disease-causing bacteria, fungi, viruses and other pathogens. An effective IPM program begins with making schools and child care facilities less vulnerable to pest infestation, by focusing on "best management practices" (BMPs) that PREVENT pests. These practices will vary depending on the pest. Sanitation, exclusion (pest-proofing), and removing food, water, and shelter are key BMPs to prevent many indoor insect and rodent pests. A healthy lawn that is properly mowed, fertilized and watered competes well with weeds. Molds and mildews will not flourish in dry well-ventilated conditions. With IPM, most pesticides are not used on a calendar basis (pre-set schedule), but employed when inspection, monitoring, and/or knowledge of the particular circumstances warrant their use. However, some pesticides, such as preemergence herbicides, will be scheduled in advance, if the pest problem can be predicted and cannot be tolerated.

Implementing and IPM Program

There are five basic components of an IPM program:

  1. Pest Identification. For pest management to be effective, corrective actions must be tailored to the pests that are actually present. There are many online resources for pest identification but in many cases visual comparisons with online images are inadequate for accurate identification. Contact an expert from your state's Extension Service, land-grant university, or pest management association for assistance in identifying your pest problems - whether they are in the building, turf, or landscape.
  2. Inspection and Monitoring. Begin with a thorough inspection of the property (both indoors and outdoors) and know where to look for different pests. Inspection helps find evidence of pests as well as conditions that encourage them. Routine inspections (monitoring) are needed because pest populations can change frequently. Since inspections can be time-consuming, tools exist to assist in monitoring for certain pests (for example, sticky traps for indoor, crawling insects and insect light traps for flying insects). A facility inspection checklist is important when performing initial inspections and ongoing monitoring of buildings and grounds. A pest-sighting log should also be kept for everyone to document any observation of pests for the maintenance staff and/or pest management professional to take appropriate action.
  3. Education. Education is a critical component of IPM. Everyone must learn how their actions can contribute to pest problems, and what their responsibilities are in the IPM program. Some types of exclusion, sanitation, and monitoring can be done by anyone, and anyone can quickly communicate what they observed to the IPM Coordinator or maintenance staff. It is always important to distinguish between pest occurrences that do and don't require action, and what the appropriate action is, depending on the particular pest and circumstances. At its best, IPM education involves a variety of methods, such as inspection and service reports, the pest-sighting log, classroom discussions, and memos to staff and parents.
  4. Action Thresholds. An action threshold is the point at which the pest reaches an unacceptable level, where some type of corrective action must be taken to reduce its numbers. Action thresholds and the corrective actions taken vary greatly, depending on the pest, site, geographical location, and time of year. For example, even a few cockroaches are not tolerated in food service areas (very low action threshold), while clover in a regularly mowed area will not crowd out the desired turf (high or no action threshold). Some pests can have an action threshold of one sighting; other predictable and unacceptable pests may require no sighting at all to take action (for example, preemergence weed control on school athletic fields). 5. Use of Multiple Tactics. Successful IPM considers the toolbox of available tactics and uses a combination that eliminates unacceptable pests and strives to prevent future infestations. Monitoring is always necessary, unless the action threshold is zero. Key IPM tactics include:
  • Sanitation: A primary goal of sanitation is to remove sources of food, water and shelter, which many insects, rodents and pathogens need to survive and thrive. Improperly stored food and the presence of food residues are major attractants of insects and rodents - weekly or even daily cleanup is not as effective as prompt food storage and cleanup, whether food residues are on dishes, desks, drains, dumpsters, etc. Sanitation inside a building also includes clutter control in all areas (classrooms, food service areas, restrooms, lockers, etc.) The proper and practical sanitation techniques outside a building depend in part on the pest.
  • Exclusion: Pest exclusion involves taking steps to "pest-proof" buildings. It begins with a thorough inspection to locate possible points of entry, both indoors and on the building exterior. Once entry points are identified, steps are taken to make it more difficult for pests to enter. Outdoors, weeds that spread by seed can be excluded from other areas by careful attention to preventing seed production and equipment contamination. Habitat Modification:
  • Habitat modification involves altering the environment to make it unfavorable for the particular pest. For example, preventing and removing standing water will help avoid mosquito problems, and mulch can inhibit germination of weeds under trees and shrubs.
  • Physical Control: In certain situations, physical control is highly effective. Wear gloves and a dust mask to hand-pull small populations of weeds or to scrub mold or mildew off washable surfaces. Extreme temperatures are lethal to most insect pests. Placing food items in a freezer at 0°F (-18°C) for several days will kill stored product pests. Placing clothing, backpacks, and other items in a clothes dryer on the highest setting (120°F minimum) for 30 minutes will kill all stages of bed bugs (but make sure the items will not be heat-damaged before placing them in the dryer).
  • Mechanical Control: A wide variety of traps play an important role in insect and rodent pest control. Mechanical traps are devices that often use an attractant (food or odor) to draw pests to the trap. Snap traps, insect light traps, "flypaper" and glue boards are examples of mechanical traps. Traps often require careful installation, placement and service, and some may not be appropriate for certain areas (for example, snap traps in areas accessible to children). Directions, policies, and laws must be carefully followed. Mechanical options for control of certain weeds include regular mowing of turf areas and hoeing or cultivation of bare ground. In all cases, measures should be taken to ensure that the potential for soil erosion is minimized with mechanical weed control.
  • Chemical Control: Pesticides are an integral part of most IPM programs but they are never intended to be a substitute for preventative measures such as sanitation and exclusion. Pesticides must be used only when needed - setting action thresholds for specific insects, weeds, etc. will define when the use of a pesticide is warranted. Always select pesticides that are effective on the target pest, and labeled for the particular indoor or outdoor use. Formulation, placement, and delivery can minimize potential exposure while still effectively controlling the pest (for example, granules, crack-and-crevice treatments, baits). Only designated persons properly trained in pesticide application should apply pesticides in and around schools and child care facilities. Always read and follow the pesticide label; the label is the law!

Roles and Responsibilities in an IPM Program

IPM Coordinator: A coordinator must be designated to implement the written IPM program, serve as liaison with the pest management professional or in-house trained pesticide applicator, ensure that pest management decisions and actions adhere to the IPM program, and keep all required records. The IPM program must address all the necessary details, and the IPM Coordinator must be well-trained in all aspects of IPM including safe pesticide use (even if someone else makes the pesticide applications).

Administrators/Decision Makers: Superintendents, child care facility owners, maintenance directors, and others must understand the IPM program and make decisions that support its success.

Teachers, Staff, Students, and Other Children: Everyone with access to classrooms, lockers, desks, and cubbyholes must promptly clean up food residues and seal unused food (including pet food).

Kitchen and Cafeteria Staff: Food service personnel must practice excellent hygiene in all aspects of food preparation, handling, clean-up, storage and disposal.

Facility, Maintenance and Custodial Staff: These individuals are most likely to see pests, evidence of pests, or conditions conducive to pests, as part of their normal responsibilities. They have key roles in exclusion sanitation, habitat modification, and monitoring.

Family Members: Parents in particular should ask to review the school or child care facility's IPM program. A good program will include the components discussed in this brochure. Any concerns should be expressed to the administrator or IPM Coordinator. Parents have an important role in teaching their children to store and discard food as instructed by the school or child care facility.

Contracted Pest Management Professional (PMP) or In-House Pesticide Applicator: Whether contracted or in-house, the individual responsible for pesticide applications must be well-trained in safe pesticide use and all other aspects of IPM, and understand and follow the school or child care facility's specific IPM plan. If contracted, the IPM Coordinator and PMP should always review the pest management contract together.

For more information please see the Texas A&M website or view the PDF that is available on this page.