Certainly, high pest populations in schools degrade the learning environment and can cause significant health threats or dangerous structural damage. Rodents associated with humans can transmit disease directly by contaminating food with their urine or feces or by biting people. These rodents can also transmit several diseases indirectly by way of fleas. Rodents also gnaw on electrical wires and fires can result. Termites may cause significant structural damage, wasp stings are painful and may cause allergic reactions. Flies, gnats and ants can create annoyances and detract from the learning environment.
Asthma is on the increase in the US and this is reflected in state level statistics in Pennsylvania. Data from Philadelphia show that death rates due to asthma are extraordinarily high. Cockroach infestations are implicated in increased asthma in inner cities. Studies in eight Eastern and Midwestern cities show that cockroach allergens in children's homes contribute significantly to the incidence of serious allergy conditions. Further, the presence of cockroaches in schools can be a significant source of the allergens that contribute to asthmatic. These are unacceptable conditions for our school children and other occupants and pest management programs are obviously needed.
On the other hand, pest management practices that rely heavily on pesticides are reactive rather than preventative and may also directly cause problems. Issues of poor indoor air quality, pesticide hypersensitivity, pesticide residues and children's heightened sensitivity to potential damages of pesticides are all cited in rationale for new legislation across the country. As common as pesticide use is, we know very little about relative quantities of what products are used and how safety in schools is assured. Incidents of pesticide poisoning are unevenly reported and difficult to interpret due to lack of consistency in reporting criteria and follow-though. Long-term effects of exposure to multiple pesticides, presumed to be higher in enclosed environments is also unknown.
Our own surveys in PA (1998 and 2001) show that the majority of schools rely on the services of profession pest control companies both for information (73 - 79%) and to physically manage pests in the schools (60-86%).
To actually carry out IPM in Schools, a team effort is required: superintendents, principals, facilities managers, teachers, students and custodians all have to cooperate. (Can you see why?)
Once students understand how IPM works in building and grounds, it can be turned into a number of projects - they can be in charge of monitoring, coming up with IPM plans for the school grounds, research and recommend turf and landscape species plantings to minimize pest problems, and more.
In the activity below you will become familiar with what is involved in real-world IPM right in your own school. The manual, " IPM in Pennsylvania Schools" provides an in-depth overview of common pest species in schools. This can augment classes in biology and usually provide you with live specimens on site!