Bed bugs in schools aren’t going away

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

Bed bugs in schools are an issue that is not going to disappear. We have many resources available to help people deal with the issue, but, as is often the case, these resources are not looked for until there is a crisis.

Finding a bed bug in any situation can be distressing, but should not be a cause for panic.

This became clear, once again, as a distraught school official called to ensure that the pesticide application they were planning was legal. When asked if the pesticide applicator had found an infestation, the answer was “We know there isn’t one”. The strategy had been to spot treat when a bed bus is found. But the problem has escalated. Parents are pulling their kids from school. The union is involved. Finger pointing is rampant. The pesticide application was planned to show that SOMETHING is being done.

But we know that it isn’t going to help. Eliminate every bed bug in a building and the very next day a student or staff member can bring in another hitchhiker from an infested home.

So what is the solution?

Bed bugs are, simply, a community problem. It is nearly impossible to determine who is at fault and laying blame is pointless. The old saying states that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to deal with a bed bug problem.

First, know that it is nearly impossible to prevent bed bugs from entering any public facility. They will hitchhike on personal items from infested homes. These introductions are common in schools, office buildings, movie theaters, retail stores, libraries, taxis, buses, trains, diners,…

Bed bug infestations are rare in schools, but introductions from infested homes, usually on personal items that travel from home to school and back again, are quite common.

Second, infestations do not happen unless bed bugs have the opportunity to feed. They hate disturbance, prefer darkness when feeding, and need a body to be still, usually for two hours or more – not conditions typically found in schools.

Third, especially in apartment units, a family might be doing their best to control bedbugs, but a neighbor’s untreated apartment can lead to constant reinfestations. And there are multiple reasons for residents to not report bed bug infestations within their apartments, including:

  • Bed bugs might not have been noticed. Not everybody reacts to bites.
  • Residents are ashamed or embarrassed. Despite the fact that anyone can get bed bugs, there is the false stigma that bed bugs are associated with poverty and unsanitary conditions.
  • There is a risk of being charged for treatment or being evicted, even when the landlord is responsible.
  • Treatment is expensive and the resident might not have the resources to hire a pest management professional.

A national organization called eXtension has developed an IPM Action Plan for Bed Bugs that addresses the responsibilities of the school community and parents (and, in extreme cases, local government). Both lists include education. The NYS IPM Program can help with educational resources (below) and workshop opportunities.

The Action Plan goes on to discuss procedures that should be followed if a suspected bed bug is found and what to do if children repeatedly come in with bed bugs. It even provides recommendations for further intervention when children continue to come in with bed bugs despite interventions. A small sample of listed procedures include:

  • If a confirmed bed bug was found on a child then the school nurse should inform the child’s parents. [A letter and] inspection report should be sent home with the student. (See Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know fact sheet for a good sample letter). Educational materials should accompany the letter.
  • In most instances students should not be excluded from school due to bed bugs. Schools should not be closed due to the discovery of bed bugs unless there is a widespread infestation [which is rare].
  • In an infested home, parents should store their child’s freshly laundered clothing in sealed plastic bags until they are put on in the morning. This prevents bed bugs from hiding in the clothing and being carried to school.
  • Backpacks, lunchboxes and other items that travel back and forth to school can also be inspected daily and stored in sealed plastic containers at home to prevent bed bugs from getting into them. [Backpacks can also be treated in a hot dryer.]
  • At school a “hot box” might be used to heat treat belongings possibly infested. A hot box is an insulated container with a heating element that raises the temperature above 115 degrees, killing bedbugs. They can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Dryers that contains shelves will also serve the same purpose.

Action plans can then be formatted as a flowchart, making decision making simple to understand and follow. The Michigan Bed Bug Working Group put together the Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know fact sheet with a sample flowchart.

This flowchart is part of Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know. The fact sheet also includes a sample parent letter.

We recommend that every school develop a bed bug policy based on the recommendations within the IPM Action Plan for Bed Bugs and use NYS IPM Program resources to help educate the school community and beyond regarding bed bugs and how to deal with them.

NYS IPM Bed Bug Resources

And be sure to check out a potential grant opportunity to help the school community purchase the airtight containers and heating units needed to help prevent bed bug transportation. The Walmart Foundation Community Grant Program offers grants ranging from a minimum of $250 to the maximum grant of $5,000. We do not know if they have ever funded this type of project, but let us know if you are successful!

Pests and pupils don’t mix

Year in and out, outreach to schools has our community IPM staff going back to school. Literally. We work with maintenance staff, nurses, groundskeepers, teachers, and parents. We provide the insight and know-how it takes to keep kids safe from pests and pesticides both. But schools are tricky to manage because—well, think of them as a village. You’ve got your cafeterias, laboratories, auditoriums, theaters, classrooms, athletic fields, playgrounds. Add in vacation and after-hours use for public meetings, community sports teams, summer schools and camps. Plus, New York’s laws restrict when, where and how pesticides can be used at school.

Which means you’ve got work. Because chances are, you’ve got pests.

Worried about ticks? By rights you should be. The hazards can hardly be overstated. We help teachers, school nurses, and entire communities learn how to stay tick-free regardless the season—and warn them that old-time remedies could increase the likelihood of disease.

Next up—unsafe playing fields. Is there goose poo on athletic fields and playgrounds? It’s not just unsanitary—it makes for slick footing and falls. And take it from us: weedy, compacted soil is a “slick footing and falls” risk too. How to manage turf, pesticide-free? We teach repetitive overseeding as a thoughtful alternative to repetitive herbicides. We’ll get to that in another post.

And then you’ve got your ants, bed bugs, cockroaches, drain flies, drugstore beetles, fleas, grubs, lice, mice, mosquitoes, pigeons, rats, termites and wasps. Did we say we get calls? Each year we field several hundred. Then, of course, there’s the workshops we lead, the conferences we speak at, the media interviews we give. Work, yes, but also deeply rewarding.


Stop School Pests Launches Free Online Courses

We have been asked to share this press release with links to free trainings for K-12 school staff. It is worth taking a look!

A Safer Way to Keep Schools Pest Free; Stop School Pests Launches Free Online Courses

New Online Courses Help K12 School Employees Make Schools Healthier Places to Learn

MADISON, Wis., December 14, 2017 – Stop School Pests, a new online training program, is now available to school employees across the United States and beyond at The training will help schools reduce pest complaints, pesticide use, and pest-related costs, and improve food and fire safety by teaching staff how to prevent pest problems before they occur.

Students spend a major part of each day in school – on average 30 hours each week. Exposure to pests and pesticides can create an unhealthy school environment. Mice and cockroaches can cause or trigger asthma attacks and allergies. Similarly, an over-reliance on pesticides can lead school employees and children to be exposed unnecessarily to dangerous chemicals.

“Schools must be safe, healthy spaces for students and staff. It’s important to manage pests with smart, common-sense approaches that minimize exposure to pests and chemicals,” said Dr. Dawn Gouge who was involved in the project from its beginning and is a Professor and Public Health IPM Specialist at University of Arizona’s Entomology Department. “These training modules will make that possible for any school district, no matter the size or budget.”

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a long-term approach to preventing pests utilizing the least-hazardous, most effective, sustainable and cost-effective methods. Stop School Pests new online training program will provide important tools to help school staff implement more effective pest-control programs.

Teachers, school nurses, administrators, food service personnel, facility managers, landscape and ground managers, maintenance and custodial staff – every staff member plays a role in making sure food sources for pests are minimized and making sure that surfaces and outdoor areas are safe for children to touch.

The Stop School Pests portal offers specific training modules for each role that address the basics of smart pest management, identifies common pests found in schools, and the health risks associated with pesticides and pests. The training is free and open to anyone and is administered by the non-profit organization IPM Institute of North America. Presentation files can be requested at no cost.

The training content was developed by the School IPM Working Group and through a multi-year, nationwide project with funding by the US EPA, the USDA, the North Central IPM Center, and the National Education Association.

Stop School Pests aims to make affordable, accessible training available to all involved in making sure schools are healthy spaces for every child and employee in every community.

All training courses are available at no cost at After a short quiz, users can download a certificate.

Media Contact:

Alina Eva Freund, Project Manager

IPM Institute of North America

608 232 1410 x 1007

What now? Winter sports field management

The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory. – Gary Zukav

Winter solstice. Photo credit: nicolas_gent flickr

It’s now officially winter, but even now there are steps you can take to improve your fields for the spring season.

  • Attend educational programs – The Cornell Turf Team presents at numerous events during the winter months. Check our Facebook events pages for events near you. NYS IPM Program staff presentations can be found here. Your local BOCES also offers seminars. Don’t hesitate to give them suggestions for topics you are interested in learning more about. Can’t find a presentation near you? Check out the Cornell Turfgrass sports turf resources. You don’t need to dedicate much time out of each day on the website to greatly increase your turf management knowledge.

    Field management schedules can provide justification for your budget.

  • Check out the Field Management Schedules at On deck: dormant overseeding. These schedules can also help you in developing (and defending) your budget.
  • Conduct site assessments for each field to direct resources (products, equipment, labor) to areas with greatest need. While you won’t be able to rate turf color or feel of ground, you can assess bare spots and where ice is accumulating – both areas to target for aerification, topdressing to raise low spots, and overseeding. For more information, visit Once the growing season begins, be sure to update your site assessment.

    Cornell University turf specialist Frank Rossi talks about how to manage athletic fields to reduce injuries.

  • Develop or adjust field scheduling protocol – It takes a village to maintain safe, healthy fields and now is good time to begin or continue conversations about field scheduling. We have covered this topic at If you need help in convincing administrators, athletic directors, and coaches in the importance of investing in and protecting sports fields, the half hour presentation by Dr. Frank Rossi on Duty of Care covers a topic sure to prick up their ears – liability.
  • Maintain equipment – In between snow removal and frantic bed bug calls, make sure those mower blades are sharp and balanced. Spring will be here before you know it.

For the most up-to-date information on sports field management, follow the Cornell Turfgrass Program on Facebook and Twitter.

IPM in the classroom – No creature was stirring… scratch that. They are.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful
But a week off from school is delightful
And since cleanup was incomplete
School pests eat, breed and eat, breed and eat. – Tortured adaptation of Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow

I admit to being a Christmas music junkie (Once Thanksgiving is over, thank you. Christmas music in October is ridiculous.) But I might have overdosed a bit as, considering my next blog topic, visions of mice running through empty classrooms danced through my head. (Okay, I’ll stop now.)

Mice would find Jim delicious. Photo: Michael Homan flickr

At any time of the year, school pests, especially mice, roaches, and ants, will find and consume any food laying around. And sometimes they eat things we might not consider to be food, like glue, fragrant soaps, and their dead brethren.

The holidays, however, bring their own avalanche of new food possibilities. Forget the parties with their crumbs, spilled juiced, and bits of candy that rolled under the radiator. (Actually, don’t forget them. Not forgetting is the point of this post, so we’ll get back to them shortly.) Holiday crafts can be a mecca of opportunity for the critters that make school buildings their home.

The small, round milo and millet can get everywhere! Photo: Megan flickr

By holiday crafts, we mean anything from macaroni art to gumdrop wreaths. As an example of the pest implications of crafts, let’s look at the classic pinecones coated with peanut butter and rolled in birdseed. The small, round milo is a primary ingredient in many inexpensive birdseed and is not even eaten by most birds. The smaller, also round, millet is more popular with birds, but, trust me, both can get everywhere! Although more expensive, black-oil sunflower seeds are high in energy, a favorite of many birds, and, most pertinent to this post, infinitely easier to clean up. (If you’re interested in pursuing this non-pest related topic, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a quick guide to seed types.)

And then there is the run-of-the-mill food opportunities provided by breakfast in the classroom, afternoon snack, and the emergency stash in the teacher’s desk drawer. All of these activities lead to overwhelmed custodial staff, who are likely already understaffed and overworked, and, of course, those happy pests that can feed uninterrupted through the holiday break.

A pest-proof container that fits in a desk drawer is the perfect gift for teacher.

So lend a hand. Pre-plan those holiday crafts and parties with pests in mind and be sure to include a clean-up strategy. Give the students the responsibility for their own messes and the tools they need to clean it up. And, if someone asks you what you want as a gift, pest-proof containers for your emergency stash could be just the ticket.

For more ideas on scrooging pests, see the Texas School Pest News post Don’t make it a Happy New Year for Pests. The NYS IPM Program has put together School Integrated Pest Management: The Four Laws for Keeping Schools Pest-Free and other resources available on our Schools and Daycare Centers webpage.

And make sure you check under the radiator.

Happy holidays!