Ask the Right Questions to Keep Pests Out of School

By Patrick Copps, B.C.E., Pacific Division Technical Services Manager

From the gymnasium to the classroom, there are many places pests can enter your school. But keeping them at bay is of paramount importance to creating a positive learning environment for children. Cafeterias provide the food, shelter and water that pests need to survive, but with students eating in classrooms and around campus, there could be many places pests could hide and thrive. Some of the most common pests to look for at schools are flies, cockroaches and rodents – all are attracted to food, water and shelter.

Because food safety and children’s health are a major concern for schools, an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program can help protect students and staff from pest related health issues. An IPM program is an environmentally responsible and business-savvy approach to controlling pests since a well developed and implemented program seeks to prevent pest activity before it occurs and to reduce dependency on chemical treatments. The IPM process is not a one-time event, but an ongoing cycle of three critical activities: 1) assessing the situation in your school, 2) implementing specific, science-driven solutions based on findings, and 3) monitoring pest activity to make sure the techniques are working.

To make sure your school is attacking pests at the source, here are four questions school IPM Coordinators and staff should ask a pest control professional:

  1. Which pests are most problematic in my area?

Contrary to popular belief, flies – not cockroaches – are the filthiest pests. Your pest management provider should know which pests pose the greatest threat to health and food safety in your area. The provider should be able to assist you to identify the types of pests – even the species of fly, cockroach or rodent you are dealing with. For example, the house fly is more likely to spread disease than the fruit fly because of their eating and breeding preferences. This information can help you prioritize as you develop the pest management plan. Your provider should evaluate your property and work with you to create a customized program that targets your unique pest challenges.

  1. What is the likely source of the pest issue?

Remember, pest sightings often indicate a sanitation or maintenance issue, so simply eliminating the existing pests may not resolve the concern. Pests may have separate breeding and eating sites based on their biology, so immature stages may live and eat in a different location than the adults. Finding the breeding site is critical to resolving a pest problem.

  1. What are you doing now and in the long term?

Pests can enter a building in many ways, so you and your pest management provider should do more than rely on traditional treatments. Pest proofing will help keep pests out to begin with, and trend reports from monitors and traps can help identify pest access and remove pests that are already inside. In the long term, your pest management provider should work with you to develop a plan for preventing pest infestations that includes providing trend reports and information on sanitation and maintenance practices that will reduce pest activity. Pest management techniques change over time, so also ask your pest management professional about new technologies you could be using, from fly lights to rodent management.

  1. Can you provide employee training?

The best way to keep pests away from your facility is to remove the food sources and look for potential sanitation or maintenance concerns that attract them in the first place. Your school staff and maintenance employees can provide a first line of defense. Ask your pest management provider to attend staff meetings and help educate your staff regarding the best practices for keeping your facility free of pests.

It’s important to make sure that your facility’s IPM program is effective, as these programs can help reduce the use of chemicals in treating pests, which is critical when you are working around food and children. By asking your pest management provider these questions, you will be able to work together to assess the situation, implement corrective actions and monitor the effectiveness of your preventive program. Now that you know what to ask, it’s time to give your pest management provider a pop quiz.

Patrick Copps is technical services manager for Orkin’s Pacific Division. A board-certified entomologist in urban and industrial entomology, he has more than 35 years of experience in the industry. For more information, contact him at or visit

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