Maintenance & Operations

Promoting Healthy Environments in Schools

It is important to think about the chemicals and agents that we expose children to during their daily routines when they are in school. Knowing that the physical development of children is a fragile thing, school divisions across the country should be cognizant of what may affect a child’s health. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program is an ideal way to manage pests in a school division. IPM consists of a science based, preventative approach to managing pests in schools. An IPM plan aims to eliminate the food, shelter, and water pests need to survive, while taking into consideration the types and amounts of pesticides that should be used in schools. The goal is to reduce the unnecessary exposure children, and those that work in school buildings, have to pests and pesticides. There continues to be a push from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote healthy standards regarding how schools treat for pests.

The EPA is organizing several national organizations and associations across the country to come sit as part of a roundtable to define several major principles of agreement and to establish some recommendations for best practices for schools and school districts across the nation. Jim Jones is the assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He states, “EPA’s goal is to have schools across the nation implement sustainable pest management practices to provide healthier learning environments for our students and teachers.” The National School Plant Management Association (NSPMA) recently endorsed the vision and the principles of agreement that the EPA is establishing, with the hope that other national organizations and associations that have an influence on what happens in schools will also do the same. Frank Ellis, Chief of EPA’s Environmental Stewardship Program is helping to organize the roundtable of constituents in May of 2016, in Washington D.C.

A national roundtable of this nature is very important because the end-reaching goal is to secure the endorsement of IPM as the preferred approach for managing pests in schools by national organizations, with an influence in the school community. There will be a plan and commitment to disseminate the endorsement and related information after the roundtable meeting. Many stakeholders are being sought out by the EPA to participate in the roundtable. These participants include national organizations and associations that include school administrators, facility managers, teachers and health officials. The hope is to gather a consensus and formulate a plan for the roundtable participants to actively facilitate increased adoption of IPM in schools nationwide, over a three-year period. The EPA will also look to work with roundtable participants to ensure these best practices are infused into the lifeblood of schools across the country.

School divisions across the country with ongoing IPM programs already have resources in place to assess current pest management practices to minimize recurring pest problems. Many school divisions often train their own pest management technicians, which allow them to immediately begin implementing IPM practices. Those school divisions that contract out these services may require certain IPM-based specifications through the procurement and contract oversight processes. School divisions should adopt best practices for how they handle pests. Not only how they treat for pests, but also in deciding whether treatment is needed, how they document treatments, and in providing responsible management of their inventory control for pesticides. A consistent and monitored pest inspection schedule should also be adopted to manage schools.

It is important for school divisions across the country to have a developed and institutionalized plan on how they manage pests. Holding a meeting for a national coalition of constituents is a proactive approach to standardize the way pest management operations are conducted in schools. A roundtable will allow stakeholders to collaborate and bring transparency to this issue. The health of our children in the school environment must always be a focal point, especially in matters when school divisions can control some outcomes by using IPM practices. The EPA is moving a positive direction in promoting comprehensive IPM programs. This will have a lasting influence on the health and well-being of our children.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

John A. Bailey, Ph.D. is the director of School Plants for Chesapeake Public Schools and a National School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Virginia, and a Virginia School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Region II, in Virginia.

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