The National Education Association Presents “A Safer Way to Keep Schools Pest Free”

NEA partnership brings integrated pest management training to school custodians and staff to ensure safer school environments for students.

Every day school custodians face challenges in their efforts to foster safe, healthy learning environments. Pest control can be one of the toughest challenges. Allowing pests to take up residence in schools is out of the question, so grudgingly, custodians may have to resort to using harsh pesticides to combat the stubborn invaders. These pesticides can settle on desks, books, counters, walls, playgrounds, and playing fields, which could be harmful to children and staff with respiratory problems. And in this prime time of brain and body development, children should be in an environment as free of toxins as possible.

Have No Fear IPM Certified Custodians Are Here
To prevent overuse of pesticides in public schools and provide professional development for custodians, NEA’s Education Support Professional Quality department has entered into a collaborative relationship with the Integrated Pest Management Institute of North America. Custodians all across the nation can now become certified in Integrated Pest Management.

NEA custodians care about students and want to be on the cutting edge of making schools cleaner, safer, and healthier environments for learning. Making IPM certification accessible through NEA and its affiliates is one way NEA supports custodians in their goal of acquiring more training and professional development.

But what is integrated pest management (IPM)?

IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy to control pests in an environmentally responsible manner. Its approach emphasizes infrequent and judicial use of pesticides. Given the aversion to using pesticides, many of which are neurotoxic, around children, IPM is a preferred choice for schools.

“IPM is not a new tool,” says Alina Freund, Community IPM Project Manager at the IPM Institute of North America. “We tell people don’t treat it as a new tool…. Do what you do, just think pests. The more you know about how pests operate, what they need, what they like, the better able you are to fight against them.”

IPM is not about products. IPM depends on people who have learned about pests; their breeding, feeding, and infesting habits. Thus, having people who are trained is essential to executing an IPM program.

It’s A School Team Effort
All who work in schools are interested in improving student health and environment, not just custodians. That is why NEA supports the IPM Institute of North America’s effort to bring IPM training online for everyone.

Teachers don’t usually feel that pest management is part of their responsibility, but sometimes they’ll bring treats or items found in nature into the classroom and may unknowingly be helping create a pest-vulnerable area. With IPM certification, teachers may become an extra pair of eyes for custodians and maintenance staff.

It’s truly a team effort. An IPM program in a school or school district can only be successful if, for example, the custodians get what they need from the facility manager, and the facility manager gets what he or she needs from the administrator. The Institute’s online professional development consists of trainings for nine different professional groups for everyone who is involved.

“That is why we have different modules because everyone has a role to play, and there’s no need to create an entirely new role,” says Freund.

Up Close and Personal with Creepy Crawlers
The Institute and ESPQ have started to work together to promote IPM training for custodians around the country. Recently, Dr. Tom Green, president of the IPM Institute, led a Stop School Pests training workshop at the Ohio and Kentucky Education Association conference for their ESP members, an audience with all levels of IPM experience. During the conference, the custodians worked with live insects, including cockroaches and scorpions.

Bed bugs, American and German cockroaches, spiders, ants, drain flies, fruit flies, and mosquitos are typical pests found in schools. The custodians at this event had the opportunity to get acquainted with some of these bugs.

In a Q&A for the School IPM Newsletter, Dr. Green talks about his experience leading the training workshop for NEA’s custodial members in the Ohio and Kentucky conference.

“There is no substitute for seeing a live bed bug in terms of being able to recognize one in the future. I love it when someone initially reluctant to get up close and personal with a live creature ends up with one crawling around in their hands! Madagascar and death’s head cockroaches, and the millipedes are perfect – big and slow. We left the black widow spider, scorpion, bed bugs, mosquito adults and larvae, and American and German cockroaches in their petri dishes and vials, but were able to look at them under magnification and hopefully leave a lasting impression without generating too many nightmares!”

The Institute certified a number of NEA members at the conference and can certify more custodians through live trainings, such as ESP conferences, webinars, and online courses.

“NEA has been a natural fit for the work that we do,” says Freund. “They’re interested in improving student health. Improving the working conditions and professional training for staff groups in schools that are essential to keep the school healthy and safe, and who do not always receive professional development opportunities. We feel that they need professional development not only to improve their skill, but their general standings in their future careers.”

Anyone interested in the IPM training program can email Tim Barchak in NEA’s ESPQ department directly.