by Megan Dunn, Healthy People & Communities Program Director
For back to school, it's great to support environmental efforts and purchase recycled paper and nontoxic markers. You may be able to find recycled pens and pencils. But, you can take even more steps to ensure a clean, healthy and environmentally friendly classroom. By supporting your school’s efforts to reduce pesticides, you are protecting student, employee, and volunteer health.
An Advocate’s Success Story
Rachel is a busy mom and environmental health advocate in Seattle, WA. She noticed her daughter’s back to school list included disinfectant wipes, which contain pesticides designed to kill micro-organisms and should not be handled by children.
She worked with her child’s teacher, the school health professional, the County and Department of Health to put together a guide called Cleaning for Health in the Classroom.
She also provided teachers with green cleaning kits for the classroom that focus on using the right product for the right task. Her attention to this issue has resulted in a lasting change and illustrates that kids still need their parents to be looking out for them-even after you drop them off at school.
Bad Habits That Stay After School
Prevention is the best way to reduce unwanted pests and eliminate the need for a school to rely on pesticides. While it’s tempting to send cupcakes or other treats for a birthday, crumbs and sugar can be inviting for insects such as ants and roaches. Consider other ideas for classrooms party treats-like colorful pencils or stickers.
Teachers are appreciated, but pests in the lounge are not. Show teachers you care, and help clean up the teacher’s lounge- a common source for clutter and an invitation for pests. Ask the school to provide air-tight sealed containers for common foods and edible supplies in the classrooms. If they don’t have them, consider gifting these for the school.
Bed bugs, Lice and Hitchhikers
Bed bugs can travel on backpacks and lice can hitchhike on hats or jackets but can’t jump from neighbors. Encourage your kids to NOT share hats and place backpacks in lockers or on hooks (items should not be touching). Tie long hair up in a ponytail. Check students for lice and their belongings for signs of lice or other bugs.
If you do find a pest, avoid self-treatment and toxic remedies. For great ideas on avoiding bedbugs, check out our video on our resources page.
The above examples are common sense approaches to keeping pests out of our school and classroom, but they’ve also been scientifically studied. Prevention is the first step in Integrated Pest Management (IPM), it’s required in all Oregon schools as well a few other states and districts across the country. In Washington, we are working directly with schools to enforce or create IPM policies. These policies in schools have been found to reduce pesticide use by 71% and reduce pest complaints by 78% to 90% with no increase in costs (Gouge, Lame and Snyder, 2006).