Become a Pesticide-Free School

Convincing Your School | How to Apply | Making it Work: Communicating With the District | Making it Work Within Your School

Convincing Your School

Portland Public School district policy allows individual schools to opt to have part or all of their school and grounds designated as a pesticide-free zone on an annual basis.   There is not yet an adopted directive establishing how schools can apply for recognition as a pesticide-free zone.  However, if a school principal makes the request, and can show the support of the school community, the district is likely to honor it.

You can initiate the process by lobbying your school community to support this designation for your school.  Recruit some other like-minded parents, teachers, or school staff members to support your efforts.  Approach your school principal, teachers, PTA, site council, and/or school safety committee and ask them to support having your school be pesticide-free.

Be reasonable, and take the time to prepare and present a clear and convincing case.  Share your concerns about the hazards of pesticides and provide information about safer pest control alternatives.  You many want to do more research about what pesticides are used at your school and for what pests.  You can find much of the information you'll need  by following links on the home page of this Web site.

It is also a good idea to talk to the school nurse, office staff, custodian, and any sports organizations or other groups or agencies (such as youth soccer organizations or Portland Parks) that might use or help maintain the school grounds or buildings.   Sometimes these individuals or groups may know about pesticide uses at your school, or may have asked the district to use pesticides.  Some of these groups may even have applied pesticides to school property in the past, and may not be aware that under district policy, any pesticide applications need to be approved by PPS and follow new procedures and guidelines.   It is important that all of these groups know about the district's pesticide policy, and also that they "buy in" and support the pesticide-free designation for your school if it is to be honored.

How to Apply to the District for a Pesticide-Free Designation

The school principal needs to contact the PPS Environmental Health and Safety Department in writing (see sample letter) to request that your school be designated a pesticide-free zone.  A copy of the letter should also be sent to the PPS Director of Student Achievement (DOSA) for your area.  The letter should tell the district that your school community has expressed a preference for having no pesticides used on the landscape or inside the school.  Ask for a confirming letter from the district recognizing the school's pesticide-free status.

This request will need to be renewed annually.

Pesticide-free schools retain the right to request pest control services from the district or its pest control contractor.  However, note that under district policy, PPS reserves the right to apply pesticides to any school ground if it deems that the health or safety of the community or the integrity of physical structures or grounds are threatened by a "pest."  Be sure to ask for clarification from the district about how such a determination would be made.  For non-hazardous indoor pests, ask that the district's pest control contractor use only non-chemical methods.  If the district determines that a pest poses a hazard, ask that they provide written documentation of the hazard, and that they try non-chemical pest control methods first, and use least-toxic pesticides only as a last resort.  For landscape weeds, ask the district to use non-chemical methods (e.g., hand weeding, string trimming, or leaf mulches).  If this is not possible, ask for the opportunity for school volunteers to remedy the problem using such methods.  Ask for advance notice before the district applies pesticides at your school.

Making it Work: Communicating with the District

Because this is a new program, there may be some initial problems, including inadvertent pesticide use by the district, contractors, or outside groups or agencies.  Pesticides have been used routinely on district properties for many years, and some groups and individuals are not yet aware of the new policy, and/or may not receive notification of your school's pesticide-free designation.  Pesticide applications have been made at supposedly "pesticide-free" schools.  It will be important for your school to monitor the situation, and for your principal to call and lodge a complaint with the district if any applications occur.

Recognize the pressures that district staff face from within and outside the school community.  PPS maintenance staff get irate calls from school neighbors who think schools should have manicured lawns, and from teachers or school staff who feel they should not have to tolerate even a few sugar ants in the school.  At the same time, PPS custodial and maintenance budgets have been cut severely due to continuing lack of adequate state funding for schools.  Under pressure to provide quick fixes for weed or other pest problems, district staff or their pest control contractors sometimes resort to using pesticides because safer or more permanent control options are viewed as more labor intensive or more costly up front, or as taking too long to implement.

If a pest problem arises at your school and the district proposes a pesticide application, PPS policy requires that the principal be notified in advance, and that a notice be posted at your school at least seven days prior to the application (except in case of emergency).  Ask your principal for advance notification of any pesticide use at your school.  If you feel that a proposed application is unnecessary to control a pest hazard, or that pesticides are being used for a non-hazardous pest, contact your principal and PPS Environmental Health & Safety to discuss the application.  Ask that non-chemical pest control methods be used instead.   You may need to do some research to identify non-chemical methods or less toxic pesticides to propose as an alternative.  See the home page of this site for links to information about non-chemical pest control alternatives.  If you feel that your concerns are not adequately addressed by PPS and its pest control contractor, contact PPAP and the district External IPM Committee.  (Note: This will not prevent the pesticide application from occurring, but will help ensure that it is reviewed by the committee.)

Making it Work Within Your School

Do recognize that YOU can do a lot to encourage the use of safer pest control methods at your school.  You can help inform school occupants and user groups about the district's pesticide policy and the pesticide-free status of your school.  You can educate your school community about the common pests of your school, and the important role of building occupants in controlling some of these pests.  You may be able to research and implement certain alternative pest control measures, including permanent habitat modification measures indoors or in the landscape.  You can help the school establish and maintain good public relations with school neighbors.

Historically, some of the biggest uses of pesticides on PPS properties have been for weeds, head lice, and nuisance ants.  These are pest problems that school occupants are in a good position to help reduce or address through volunteer weeding, education, prevention, sanitation, and (in the case of weeds and ants) increased tolerance.

Think about ways you can help reduce the pressure to use pesticides at your school.  Talk to people, look around your school, or consult this list of PPS schools with frequent calls for indoor pest control service to identify the biggest pest problems and pest habitat areas at your school.  Then, work with school and district staff to propose some solutions.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

Your efforts can make a lasting contribution toward a cleaner, safer, pest and pesticide-free environment at your school.

This site created and maintained by Portland Parents for Alternatives to Pesticides (PPAP). This page was last updated February 2003.