An Open Letter to School Administrators
In November, the Neighborhood Network along with Group for the South Fork, North Fork Environmental Council, and Healthy Schools Network, held Toxic-Free Schools Seminars, for school employees and PTA representatives.
The goals of the event were to explore some of the innovative ways to reduce indoor pests and to control weeds on athletic fields. It was a chance for school decision makers to meet some of the professionals in the field who have "been there, done that" and to network with staff from other schools around the Island to share ideas about effective pest control & turf maintenance strategies. They also had a chance to meet some of the vendors of cutting edge "organic" products such as organic fertilizers, soil amendments, and pest control products.
Some key points to take away from these events:
1) You can do it! Alternatives to toxic pesticides are available here on Long Island and are effective. Going organic does NOT mean doing nothing; we do not advocate neglect there are many new products now available that weren't available even 5 years ago, and several schools on L.I. have already gone organic. Several golf courses on L.I. have begun to go organic. Children are more susceptible to the toxic effects of pesticides than adults are and there have been many documented incidents of poisonings around the country at schools, so your making the change will reduce children's risks.
2) Many of the products that are safer are also exempt from the NY State notification requirements. The law requires an initial notice at the beginning of the year announcing the 48 hour registry, and then also three written notices throughout the school year reporting on pesticides used in the months prior. The law encourages the use of safer products, by saving you from having to report on their use in the 3 notices that are required throughout the year if non-exempt products are used. The Department of Education has indicated that it agrees that the three notices are not necessary if only exempt products were used, however it agrees with our interpretation that, "Schools must still provide the initial written notification to all persons in parental relation and staff at the beginning of the school year&"regardless of school policy.
3) Adequate records must be kept about pest problems and solutions over time even if you contract out, and it is your responsibility to make sure this happens. Good communication between the school and the contractor is necessary, and each school is required to have a point person to serve as a contact for concerned parents about pest control records. Also, even if you contract out your pest control services, you do have control over the situation, and you can get bids from many different companies before you hire one. You can write into their contract what type of services you want and don't want for your school depending on your school's policy.
4) You do have resources for further information and assistance. You can always contact Neighborhood Network, and of course each school district should have its own Health & Safety Committee to provide guidance and support.
On this last point, please note that for your convenience we have enclosed a copy of the list of vendors and their contact information should you wish to get in touch with them. In the winter, we will also be sending to you a copy of our upcoming Green Home Guide which supplies information on more such companies whose products are available here on Long Island, along with information about least-toxic cleaners and energy efficiency for schools as well.
Neighborhood Network will continue meeting and working with Health & Safety Committees to keep the momentum going and make sure you get the support you need to be able to successfully implement a toxic-free program at your school. Everyone in the school community needs to be educated about their role in preventing pests, and once this process of education is in place it will make your job much easier.
Neighborhood Network looks forward to working with you in the future for the benefit of Long Island's school-children. Feel free to call us at 631-963-5454 if you have any questions or concerns that we can help with. Thank you.