Bed Bugs in NYC schools: DOE spokeswoman Marjorie Feinberg needs better bed bug information

by nobugsonme on July 8, 2007 · 19 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs in schools, misinformation, new york, usa

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.

1 Bugalina July 9, 2007 at 12:08 pm

“Bed bugs don’t breed in the schools”…This is just plain ignorant, and then stupid. Bed Bugs get transferred via clothing, backpacks, luggage, etc. ..They then find a blood meal and crawl into the nearest crack or crevice. Schools are an idea “breeding ground” as they provide consistant bloodmeals, Esp. that of children who may not be as aware of a foreign bug crawling on their legs as they sit at their desks..or sit cross legged on the floors for a game..or use the bathrooms..Once a bed bug arrives in the classroom they will most definitely find ideal cracks and crevices which means that the school then becomes infested. Misinformation from officials is allowing the bed bug epidemic to explode. I too do not like leaving the passing along of info left to the discretion of a principal. Having put a child through the public school system I can say firsthand that school principals keep most controversial issues behind closed doors…And what could be more controversial than Bed Bugs…

2 coopbugged July 9, 2007 at 4:39 pm

This doesn’t even address the issue of bed bugs in PRIVATE schools, which are even more inclined to keep the issue… well, private. My PCO said that he now treats tons of private schools on the upper east side. The data on public housing, rental buildings and public schools may be alarming, but it’s far more alarming when you realize that coops, condos and private schools do not report infestations abut are just as likely (and perhaps even more likely, given travel habits). Scary!

3 nobugsonme July 9, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Absolutely Coop,

As far as I am concerned, there is no data on rental buildings, office buildings and others. The schools data above is probably skewed by the fact that a teacher has to hunt down and trap a bed bug in order to register the problem. I mean, I see why, but seriously, there are surely many more bed bug infestations in schools where they just haven’t been positively identified yet.

The reason I keep saying the city needs to require PCOs to report all treated infestations is so that they can track where bed bugs are spreading. It’s in all of our interest that someone knows how many people have bed bugs and where–so those who have them will be forced to be responsible in getting rid of them. Of course, I would not expect this information to be given out to the public–because then we would see people not reporting bed bugs to PCOs, to avoid exposure.

In Toronto in 2003, the city did a study where they did just that–forced PCOs to tell them where they treated bed bugs. It was very informative and you can read the results on the CDC website.

However, one fact remains: private schools and rental or coop units not owned by the city are not subject to Local Law 37. So at least when you get an infestation in a coop or private school, you can treat it using the best possible methods.

The other thing is this, Coop– parents at private schools and owners in coops, need to educate one another on this issue, and force their own management to take action. A previous article we covered last spring stated that at least one public school district in NYC developed a policy about disclosing infestations to parents (in advance of the DOE policy above) because the PARENTS organized themselves and demanded it. Since parents in private schools have so much more sway when it comes to running their schools, since many of them have more money and power (which give additional leverage), I’d say private school parents are in a better position than private school parents, despite the fact that legislation may not affect them.

And yes, I hate to make parents do more, but unfortunately, most people don’t get bed bugs yet, and we have to educate them.

4 coopbugged July 9, 2007 at 6:34 pm

Well, private school parents and coop owners have little incentive to advocate. I was very open with my coop building, and basically demanded that they have a qualified PCO (that I recommended) inspect adjacent units. But I did not notify my child’s (public) school, because it seemed well, a little crazy. I did speak with the parents of some of my child’s classmates though.

To me, it doesn’t seem that schools are likely to be a major vector for bed bug spread, since they would seem to prefer places where they can get to blood while people sleep. I’m sure there are bed bugs in schools and offices and other places where people spend their days, but it seems unlikely that they’d harbor and thrive in such places in large numbers. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t they much more likely to thrive and multiply in areas close to where their meals sleep?

I feel my child is far more likely to pick up head lice at school than BB’s… but of course I remain vigilant for both.

That said, I’m all for more openness.

5 nobugsonme July 9, 2007 at 7:33 pm


No one was saying you should notify the school when you have bed bugs. I doubt this is going to happen. They’re saying the school should notify you when it has bed bugs. Because your kid might bring them home.

I don’t know what you meant by “private school parents and coop owners have little incentive to advocate”. I was responding to your original comment that bed bugs were in private schools and coops and this would be kept secret in private schools. Why wouldn’t private school parents push THEIR kids schools to make such information known to them, which is exactly what public school parents at one district did?

And why wouldn’t coop owners want to pressure fellow coop owners to learn about signs of bed bugs, and take steps to ensure their buildings are bed bug free?

And regarding your other comments, it doesn’t matter whether schools are likely to be a source of bed bugs. 24 schools had bed bugs in October-November, and . by February, 43 schools had them. They are spreading in schools. Bed bugs bite us when we are at rest, and this is why so many of us who don’t sleep on our sofas, but sit there for long periods, had infested sofas. Computer chairs, too, are often places people are bitten. Bed bugs don’t just bite at night. I do think children who sit in one chair for 45 minutes are likely to be bitten.

We also know that when people protect their beds (and therefore are not available for biting at night), bed bugs bite more during the day. So it stands to reason they’d do so in schools too, no?

6 July 9, 2007 at 7:45 pm

I don’t know; I just don’t think schools are major vectors for spread. I’m not saying there isn’t spread from there. Certainly if a school is infested, families should be notified — just as they are when there is an outbreak of lice. But I think the fact that public housing and some public schools are reporting tends to reinforce the (erroneous) perception that bed bugs are most likely to spread via “public” venues, when in fact the little bloodsuckers are clearly equal opportunity parasites.

I would guess that it is even more of a problem in private schools, where parents are more likely to be globe-trotting and staying in hotels a lot. Also private schools are more likely to have upholstered furniture and rugs and such.

7 nobugsonme July 9, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Exactly. Which is why we the govenment should be tracking the spread.

And also why people should ask building management and ask private school admin about bed bugs… after all, we’re customers!

8 July 9, 2007 at 8:21 pm

ITA — the gov should mandate reporting from PCO’s for both private and public places to track spread. But of course this is a low (or non) priority since bb’s don’t spread disease. But people just don’t understand how psychologically distressing they can be, especially if you are allergic and itch like crazy!


9 Bugalina July 9, 2007 at 8:38 pm

Schools both public and private can easily be breeding grounds for bed bugs…Are we all forgetting the video that shows bed bugs crawling behind an electrical socket…there are lots of those in schools…lots of children breathing out lots of CO2 makes for some plentiful blood supply…I remember my son’s classrooms as being crowded with cork boards on the walls…and stacks of construction paper and lots of crevices inbetween tiles..and sick kids laying all day long on the several beds in the nurse’s office…These present ideal locations for bed bugs…The only bugs I ever saw were in the daytime..I suspect they were out hunting for my blood..

10 LMK Entomologist July 10, 2007 at 5:23 pm

Can you update the link to the stop bed bugs safely pamphlet? I can’t find it…

11 hopelessnomo July 10, 2007 at 7:04 pm

FYI, it’s the same NYC DOH pdf they had previously released. It’s here.

12 nobugsonme July 10, 2007 at 10:56 pm

Sorry LMK, I have now updated it but looks like Nomo got there first. Thanks Nomo.

13 Winston O. Buggy July 12, 2007 at 4:23 pm

I must differ with you in regard to the following statement….
“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.)”

First off a significant amount of city work is contracted out so it is often the same PCOs who treats both. As far as the materials they are all labeled for use in the areas they are to be used and most have restrictions in regard to keeping children out of the area during and immediately after applications. Schools have tighter restrictions because kids are always there during the day which is when most if not all the work is done. Additionally much of the chemical restrictions are based on political agendas and not on science. If the same criteria for double and triple margins of safety applied to medications, vaccines and modern medicine we would see an increase in illness and mortality. I think local law 37 which started as a pesticide reduction program has gone too far and will and has caused an increase in pest activity. In the future this maybe offset by increased Integrated Pest Management protocols but at the moment the crescendo of bed bug laughter is deafening …….

14 nobugsonme July 12, 2007 at 7:49 pm

Hi Winston,

I guess I was simply trying to express that PCOs could not use all of the same chemicals in fighting bed bugs in schools that they could use in a home.

Is this incorrect?

If not, perhaps my phrasing was the problem. When I said the city’s PCO’s, I did not mean they were necessarily different people, but that the job site / employer was different.

I think everyone would be grateful for any clarification of the difference in treating bed bugs in schools vs. homes based on LL37, if you could clarify what you’ve seen in this regard.


15 rob November 1, 2008 at 7:59 am

The problem with early detection of bed bugs is , that the first stage nymph is so small u can barely see it with the naked eye. This makes it impossible sometimes to even get a sample. Which in turn brings forth the importance of steaming mattreses,boxsprings,couches,recliners,and hollow tubing of sofa beds. Steam kills eggs, nymphs,and adults on contact , but has to be done thoroughly.

just another pco

16 lg1970 November 1, 2008 at 10:23 am

i know i am just trying to make myself feel better, but i’m hoping someone can tell me that it’s possible that the bed bugs i saw on my mattress (3 of them) were the only ones in my house and when i threw out my mattress they were gone. is this even possible? i have a pco coming today and have done everything listed on this site to prepare. i just keep reading about how you can’t win with these things and i’m getting severely depressed. i just want to believe i can get rid of these things!

17 nobugsonme November 1, 2008 at 10:48 am


Sorry but it sounds unlikely.

Work with the PCO and hopefully they’ll all be gone soon.

Also, if you need support, please come to the forums:

18 lg1970 November 1, 2008 at 10:52 am

thanks. i didn’t think so. this is depressing.

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