My Path to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

As with many things in our lives, our passions arise from experience. 

I pulled my kids out of school for a week over pesticide use on the school grounds once. My main arguments were:

1) improper application per manufacturer's instructions (federal law)
2) not meeting the state notification guidelines (state law)

Every school district has a notification system, in accordance with state law, for notifying parents of pesticide application. This falls under both a right to know and health concern for those who react to ingredients in the pesticides, including the inert ingredients like silica.

I was on the list. Not only was I not notified of the application, I saw the sign when I dropped my kids off at school, but the notification did not meet the state guidelines. The school property was to have signage at entry points listing the product to be used, date of application, and who to contact with questions or concerns. There was one sign by the main office. Most students were bused to school or unloaded in a car drop off zone.

Further, the property was used by dog owners to walk their dogs, and area residents as a playground for younger children after school hours. The state law accounted for this traffic by requiring a sign at each entrance. The law went so far as to designate size of sign, bright colored paper, and such. And each affected planting area was to be flagged.

The application in question was to be applied before a rainfall or watered to activate the product. It also warned about high winds. The maintenance workers who applied to pesticide had to wear protective gear.

My children were not provided protective gear. The pesticide was applied during a dry spell, with forecasted high winds. Because it was convenient for the maintenance department to schedule at that time. The school nurse saw many students that day because they found the pellets, which resembled a popular candy, and the younger kids were eating them.

I called the state, I called the school district, I had moms tell me they appreciate my actions but nothing changed. A later application was rescheduled to meet the 72 hour notification window, when I called the principal, and I was contacted for future applications.

And I moved my children to another school district. The neighboring district took the state law even further and was rated as a 4 star IPM district. They chose not to apply pre-emergent weed killer to beds and they did not spray the lawns for broad leaf weeds. They chose to use Integrated Pest Management practices.

I learned to see the clover in the lawn as beautiful, and pull any weed that emerged despite the trampling feet of school children. The awareness and practices did not stop with maintenance, the cafeteria offered organic options and strived to improve lunch offerings.

Do you know what the practices are at your child's school? Do you know what your state laws are regarding school facilities? Are you an active voice for your child at school?

My kids were in elementary school at the time, the oldest will graduate high school this year. This incident was my first exposure to the idea of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and over the next 6 years I found myself down a path of community education and classes that eventually led me to become a natural resource teacher. And I taught IPM in that 4 star rated school district. I practiced 4 star IPM in the garden space and greenhouse I managed with students.

NEXT: What is IPM and how do I do it?




Comments

  1. Wow & thank you for calling out the absurdity. I know a woman with extreme chemical sensitivity, who was part of a local group that established a citywide pesticide-application alert system. Anyone can sign up, through the city website, & all lawncare companies must give you direct advance notice if w/in a certain radius of your property. She's now helping a group in MN start the same program. I HADN'T thought about schools though, somehow thought "I'm sure they wouldn't ever..." I should know by now not to allow myself to indulge in that sort of thinking. Thanks for calling attention, getting answers, & working to spread solutions...resolutely from your new frontier outpost too!

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    1. During Master Gardener training volunteers are taught how to identify pesticide drift damage, because they handle so many cases each year where gardeners do not think about the drift from the neighbor's pesticide in water runoff or wind. Nature does not follow our man-made property lines.

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  2. I am so glad that you stood up and made yourself heard ... and hopefully, your actions will encourage others to do the same. I am shocked at that school district's blatant disregard for the law and the health of the children whose care they are charged with. Many parents put their kids on a school bus and then trust that the school will safeguard their kids. Had you not been there and discovered the signs, you wouldn't have known. And I find that just scary! I also applaud you for moving your children to a safer district. I've often thought that people put up with bad situations because they don't believe they can either change them or leave them. Good for you!

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    1. As a young mother I was dumbfounded not only by the district response (or lack thereof) but also the complacency of other parents, who acknowledged it was a good idea to say something, but didn't have the time/concern to pick up the phone themselves. Every time I speak up I remember, that like the Lorax, I must speak for many.

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