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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

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?