Angela Montefinise updated us today in The New York Post on the issue of bed bugs in the schools.
The good news:
Months after elected officials and parents complained the city was not doing enough to alert school communities about bedbug outbreaks, the Department of Education issued its first-ever policy to cope with the vermin.
Under the new protocols, principals must alert their school communities when bedbugs are found inside schools. Letters must be sent home, as well as the Department of Health’s “Stop Bed Bugs Safety” fact sheet.
That’s good. Click to load a PDF of Stop Bed Bugs Safely. This is the leaflet that suggests that when you call a PCO and it’s determined you have bed bugs, the PCO “may” use a pesticide to treat the problem. I realize they’re tryng to encourage people to clean and remove hiding places for bed bugs, but I think this is incorrectly worded. If you call a PCO and you have bed bugs, s/he should use several pesticides, not one, not maybe. And yes, cleaning, steaming, etc. is all very good. But unless you’re using thermal or vikane, don’t expect this problem to go away easily.
But the next part is a bit questionable:
“We are giving principals the discretion to notify all or part of the community,” said DOE spokeswoman Margie Feinberg.
This is troubling, since many Principals will no doubt err on the side of keeping things more secretive and not notifying the entire community.
And then the article continues with some blatant misinformation:
Bedbugs don’t breed in schools, Feinberg said, but are brought in on the clothing of students.
If she said this, Marjorie Feinberg is wrong. Once introduced to a new location, whether it’s a home, workplace, bus, park bench, school, or taxi, bed bugs will live there. They will bite people who enter the environment, and they will breed and lay eggs. None of these locations (including your home) contain people 24 hours a day, and that’s just fine. Bed bugs will bite when people are around. And they will lay eggs. And more bed bugs will hatch in the schools.
The critters usually show up in cooler weather, and cases are on the rise.
Cases are on the rise, but bed bugs show up in hot or cold weather, rain or shine. Actually, plenty of people notice an increase when it starts to get warmer in spring. However, I don’t doubt that schools get a spike in bed bugs when kids return to class in fall.
Finally, this is not a point of misinformation, but look at these statistics:
There were 34 cases at 24 public schools last October and November. There were 72 cases at 43 schools in January and February, according to the DOE.
According to the DOE’s statistics, bed bug cases in NYC schools more than doubled, and the number of schools with infestations nearly doubled, in the space of between 3-5 months. That is a serious increase in incidents of bed bugs in schools.
I wonder why data for March through June was not provided. I’d hazard a guess the numbers kept rising between February and the end of the school year.
Unmentioned in the press about bed bugs is Local Law 37, which since 2005 has severely restricted the use of pesticides in City-owned buildings. Schools (and, gasp, public housing) have stricter laws about which pesticides can be used. Some products used against bed bugs are included. While I think everyone would like to err on the side of caution, and I do think special care should be taken to make sure growing children are safe from toxins, most people would be shocked to know that their own PCO is legally able to use products legally in their home, where their kids live, in ways the city’s PCOs can’t use them in public housing or schools, and public hospitals, for example. (The law restricts certain chemicals and has certain requirements for 24 hour notification of spraying.)
This undoubtedly makes things tougher in the schools, where it’s already hard enough to identify and treat for bed bugs. As far as I know, the city still does not identify a bed bug problem until a teacher catches a bed bug, bags it, and sends it off to be identified. That may seem reasonable, in theory, but not when you realize that teachers are already overburdened, and each one is trying to teach 30-some youngsters, and meanwhile, trying to keep order. When a kid sees a bed bug (which is surely a rare occurrence, even if the child is being bit at school), the teacher must drop everything, catch up with the bed bug, and bag it.
Imagine Stand and Deliver meets Kindergarden Cop, meets Crocodile Hunter, meets a day in the life of Lou Sorkin, entomologist, and you’ll have some idea what we’re expecting teachers to do here.
All I can say is bring on those bed bug pheromone traps, before the whole city is infested, and doesn’t even know it.