What should be done in schools about bed bugs?

Bed bugs have spread far and wide through the country and are to be expected in every community regardless of the population, per capita income, or ethnic / racial make up of the population. Bed bugs infest our dwellings. Except for a few minutes of contact during which the bugs may feed on blood in our skin, bed bugs do not remain on a person. Bed bugs are secretive animals. When not feeding, they hide away in cracks and crevices where they'll be less noticed. Whereas most will tend to hide near where a person sleeps regularly, some may wander into clothing pockets and cuffs, book bags, brief cases, purses, luggage and anywhere else that affords them shelter. If the item in which one or more may be hiding is then taken to school or work, then the little stowaway(s) get to ‘see the world’, so to speak. Hence, bed bugs will be carried into schools within the belongings of students as well as adults.

Should a child from a bed bug infested home be shunned or excluded from school? Absolutely not. To exclude that child would be an unconscionable injustice, and it could provoke legal action against the school. Children from infested homes do not hold a monopoly on bringing unwanted 'pests' to school. Teachers, principals, custodial workers, parents and others are just as likely to ferry bed bugs (as well as cockroaches and other urban pests) from their own homes as well.  

So, what can and should be done? First and foremost, educate the kids, their care-givers and the school workers (including teachers and staff) about bed bugs and appropriate means to manage and eliminate them. There should be no shame in ‘having’ bed bugs at home. The presence of bed bugs has nothing at all to do with cleanliness or housekeeping.

Next, work with pest management professionals to develop written integrated pest management plans, one for school and another to help guide families and school personnel. If bed bugs are suspected in a classroom, the room should be inspected, and non-toxic insect glue traps should be arrayed in strategic locations. These traps should be examined periodically, and a specialist should examine any suspected bed bug. Refer to our Specimen Evaluation Form if you would like to have a sample identified.  

In general, insecticide treatments within schools should be avoided unless absolutely necessary, and virtually never as preventative measure. Any such application must comply with relevant federal, state and local regulations.

If it is known that a child's home is infested with bed bugs, encourage the child to bring only the required items to school each day until the problem has been abated. Isolating the child's book bag, coat and other items may be psychologically damaging to the child, and generally unwise and unproductive. Such an action may backfire, as it will persuade others to remain silent about a bed bug or other infestation at home. Similarly, if the homes of school personnel are infested, these folks should take steps to leave their items at home (and to have their home treated appropriately).

IdentifyUS has worked with many school districts on bed bug issues, and some schools have adopted our strategies to monitor and manage a problem should it occur. We encourage school officials to contact us to discuss our identification resources as well as our consulting services in this regard.

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