UMass Extension
Integrated Pest Management

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Community Education IPM Project

Pest Management in Massachusetts Public Schools: A Survey of Practices and Perceptions

Published as:
Hollingsworth, C.S. 1996. Pest management in Massachusetts schools: a survey of practices and perceptions. Univ. Mass. Ext. Bull. 217. 14 pp.

Pest Management in Massachusetts Public Schools:

A Survey of Practices and Perceptions

Public awareness and concern about the effects of pesticides on public health and the environment is increasing, especially with regard to the impact of pesticides on the health of children. This public concern has given rise to the development of alternative methods of pest control. One system of pest control which has received considerable attention is integrated pest management or IPM.

IPM is a philosophy of pest control which has been defined in various ways by diverse groups. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1993) provides the following definition:

"IPM programs use current comprehensive information on life cycles of pests and their interactions with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment. IPM programs take advantage of all pest management options possibly including, but not limited to, the judicious use of pesticides."

Because IPM can effectively and economically reduce pest populations, while minimizing pesticide exposure, numerous crop-specific IPM programs have been developed and implemented in agricultural settings. The IPM approach has also been adopted by schools throughout the country to manage urban pests. While individual schools and school systems have adopted IPM programs, a number of states, (including Montana, Illinois and Washington, have developed state policies to encourage the use of IPM in schools and other public buildings. Other states (Texas, Michigan, West Virginia, Florida and Oregon) have mandated the use of IPM in public schools. While the Commonwealth of Massachusetts supports an active agricultural IPM program, the state has passed no policy concerning the practice of IPM in public buildings or schools.

This survey was initiated to determine the status of pests and pest management in Massachusetts schools and to determine whether IPM support is needed for Massachusetts public schools and, if so, how best to deliver that support.


The survey was conducted in spring of 1995. One-hundred public schools (preschool through grade 12) in Massachusetts were selected randomly from the Massachusetts School Directory (Department of Education 1993-1994). In order to provide proportional regional representation within the state, the number of schools selected from each county was based on county population. Each school was contacted by telephone and asked to provide the names of an administrator (principal or business manager), a fifth grade or English teacher (or alternative), a custodian or maintenance manager, a cafeteria worker and a parent (parent-teacher organization representative).

Questionnaires, containing 35 questions concerning demographic information, school situation, insect, fungus and rodent pests, and pest management (see APPENDIX I), were sent to each of the 500 individuals identified. The survey followed the Dillman (1978) protocol, including pre-survey letter, questionnaire mailing, postcard reminder and a second questionnaire mailing. To protect confidentiality, identities of individuals and schools were not retained.

Survey Results

The Respondents

Response rate to the survey was 53% (267 responses)1. Response from men and women was nearly equal (53% and 46%, respectively). Cafeteria staff comprised 21% of respondents; teachers, 24%; administrators, 20%; maintenance staff, 24%; and parents, 11%. Thirty-nine percent of respondents were between the ages of 40 and 49 years; 20% were younger; 41% were older.

The Schools

Boston metropolitan area schools were represented by 29% of the respondents; the northeastern part of the state, 15%; Southeastern, 21%; Central, 21%; and Western, 13%. Twenty-two percent of schools were located in metropolitan areas, 47% in suburban areas and 31% in rural areas. Some schools reported buildings of different ages: the oldest building reported was used in this analysis. Forty-seven percent of the school building were between 25 and 50 years old; 26 percent are younger and 27 percent were older, including 3% reported as over 100 years old.

Eight percent of schools reported an enrollment of less than 250 students; 42% reported between 251 and 600; 21% reported between 601 and 900 students; and 27% reported more than 900 students. One percent of schools represented are preschools; 48% grade schools; 14% middle schools and 25% high schools. Twelve percent of respondents represented school districts containing all grades. Food is prepared at 91% of the schools.

When respondents were asked to rate the condition of repair of their schools, 36% of schools were rated average, 21% were rated below average or poor and 43% were rated above average to excellent. Thirty-two percent of respondents rated the general level of sanitation of their schools as average; 51% rated their school sanitation above average to excellent; and 15% rated their schools below average or poor.


Which of the following do you consider to be pests?

When asked to identify pests from a list provided (Table 1), respondents identified (in order) mice, ants, cockroaches, rats, and termites most frequently. Meal moths, flour beetles, spiders and molds/mildew were identified the least. Parents indicated head lice most frequently. Other pests listed by respondents included birds, ticks and squirrels.

Table 1. Potential pests in Massachusetts schools.

mice bees/wasps cockroaches spiders
rats molds/mildew head lice fleas
flies flour beetles  meal moths termites
ants other_____

What pests are present in your school?

Fifty-six percent of respondents indicated that there were pests present in their school, 22% said that there were not and 19% did not know. Ants, mice, flies, bees/wasps were most commonly reported as being present and seen by respondents. Again, parents were most aware of head lice than of other pests.

Which pests have required control or treatment at your school?

In general, maintenance workers were more aware of pests requiring control than were the other school associates. Administrators and parents were more aware than other groups of treatment for head lice, and cafeteria personnel were more aware of treatment for flies and food storage pests. Maintenance personnel reported mice (57%), ants (57%), bees/wasps (34%) and cockroaches (21%) as requiring most control (Table 2).

Table 2. Urban pests requiring treatment in Massachusetts schools and the percentage of schools treating for them, as reported by maintenance personnel (n=56).

mice  57 termites  11 flies 42
ants  57 head lice  111 spiders  4
bees/wasps 34 molds/mildew  7 rats  33
cockroaches 21 fleas  4 meal moths  04
flour beetles 05    
  1. 32% of schools were treated for head lice, according to administrators.
  2. 23% of food service personnel reported treatment for flies.
  3. 10% of food service personnel reported treatment for rats.
  4. 5 % of food service personnel reported treatment for meal moths.
  5. 7% of food service personnel reported treatment for flour beetles.

Boston schools reported requiring more pest control than other regions, especially for mice, cockroaches and rats (Table 3). Rural schools treated for mice (41%) less commonly than other schools (57%), but treated for flies more commonly. Metropolitan schools treated cockroaches more commonly (48%) than suburban (17%) or rural (7%) schools. Rats were reported as requiring treatment more commonly in metropolitan schools (60%) than other schools (3%), but ants were less commonly treated in metro areas (27%) than other areas (27%). Bees and wasps were more commonly treated in suburban areas (28%) than in other settings (9%).

Table 3. Pests reported requiring treatment in Massachusetts public schools, by region (% of all respondents).

mice (71) mice (47) mice (40)  mice (48) mice (50)
cockroach (43) ants (41) ants (39) ants (45) ants (46)
ants (25) bee/wasp (22) termite (22) bee/wasp (22) bee/wasp (17)
rats (18) cockroach (19) bee/wasp (16) head lice (17) head lice (17)
bee/wasp (12) head lice (19) head lice (13) cockroach (15) flies (13)

Age of school buildings was not a factor in pest control. That the newest and oldest structures required more cockroach control (50% and 80%, respectively) than schools of intermediate age (18%), may be correlated with location or setting.

Grade schools treated for head lice more frequently (25%) than upper grades (5%). Cockroach control was reported higher in the upper grades (26%) than in grade schools (17%).

School repair and cleanliness were correlated with some pests. Schools reporting less than average repair had greater problems with cockroaches (37% vs. 16%), and rats (11% vs. 3%), but controlled ants less frequently (26% vs. 42%). Schools rated below average in cleanliness reported more treatment for cockroaches (44% vs. 16%) and mildew (16% vs. 5%).


Are pesticides applied at your school?

Fifty-one percent of respondents reported that pesticides were applied at their schools, 15% reported no pesticide use and 32% did not know. Respondents who indicated that pesticides were not applied were directed to skip the questions relating to pesticide use.

How much does your school pay for pest control each year?

Four percent of respondents reported that the school paid no money for pest control, 22% reported spending less than $500 each year, 11% spent between $500 and $2000, 1% spent more than $2000, and 62% did not know how much was spent. Of school administrators, 10% reported spending no money, 34% reported spending less than $500, 15% spent between $501 and $1000, 7% spent more than $1000, and 34% did not know how much was spent.

Thirty-two percent of respondents felt that the amount of money spent for pest control was appropriate, 5% felt that it was too much, 3% too little, and 59% had no opinion. Those noting that pest control was "just right," made comments ranging from, "pests are not a problem", and "pests are monitored," to "pesticides applied as a precautionary measure." Those indicating that pest control costs too much indicated that they received poor service or poor results. Respondents who felt that control costs too little also indicated dissatisfaction with control results.

Where are pesticides applied at your school?

In schools where pesticides are applied, administration, maintenance and cafeteria personnel indicated that cafeterias (75%) and classrooms (30%) were treated the most, followed by hallways (25%), restrooms (25%), boiler rooms (22%) offices (18%) and gym areas (13%). Teachers and parents were least knowledgeable about specific locations of pesticide application; 60% and 75%, respectively, did not know specific locations of pesticide applications.

What pesticides are applied in your school?

Few respondents knew what actual pesticides were applied. Only seven answered with common or trade pesticide names. Most responses were on the order of "ant spray." A number of respondents noted the use of glue boards and mouse poison.

Who decides when to apply pesticides?

Sixty-one percent of respondents reported that the custodial staff decided when to apply pesticides. Independent contractors (47%) and school principals (25%) also made pesticide decisions. Thirty-one percent of respondents did not know who made these decisions.

Who applies pesticides at your school?

Independent contractors were responsible for pesticide application at most schools (92%), while custodial staff were reported to apply pesticides at 36% of the schools. Twenty-five percent of respondents did not know who applied pesticides.

How is the pest control contractor selected?

Most respondents (80%) did not know how pest control contractors are selected. Of those who knew, 65% reported that annual competitive bids were used. Seven percent reported the use of longer contracts. Four percent reported that contracts were assigned outside the school administration.

Is the person who applies pesticides trained and certified in pesticide handling?

Pesticide handlers were reported to be certified at 56% of the schools, and were not certified at 6% of the schools. Thirty-eight percent of respondents did not know whether or not their applicators were certified. Fifteen percent of maintenance personnel indicated that school pesticide applicators were not certified.

How are decisions to apply pesticides made at your school?

Most pesticides were applied as scheduled treatment (50%) or in response to a report of pest presence (44%). Pest monitoring programs were reported in use at 9% of schools using pesticides. Thirty-seven percent of respondents did not know how pesticide decisions were made.

On average, how often are pesticides applied at your school?

Of those respondents who knew how often pesticides were applied, 35% reported monthly applications and 4% reported more frequent applications. Application frequency between monthly and annually were indicated by 28% of respondents. Nineteen percent reported applications occurring annually and 14% reported less frequent application.

Do you know of specific students or staff at your school who are acutely sensitive to pesticides?

While 9% of all respondents knew of individuals with acute pesticide sensitivity, 18% of teachers and 14% of parents knew of such individuals.

In your opinion, have you been satisfied with pest control at your school?

Sixty-seven percent of respondents were satisfied with their school's pest control program. Eighty percent of administration, cafeteria and maintenance personnel were satisfied, but only 36% of teachers were satisfied.

Twelve percent of respondents, including 26% of teachers, were dissatisfied with current pest control. Teachers also provided more comments on the pest control situation. Typical comments are shown in Table 4. Satisfied teachers commented on the lack of pests, prompt service when problems occurred, and non-exposure to pesticides. Dissatisfied teachers commented about building repair and cleanliness, continuing encounters and poor service.

Twenty-one percent of respondents had no opinion about the status of pest control in their school.

Table 4. Typical comments from teachers about pest control at their schools.

Dissatisfied Satisfied
It is ignored. Never encountered any pests.
When we report ants, they don’t see any. Pests occasionally present, not a problem.
The building is filthy. Immediate problems are taken care of.
Mice and their droppings a continuous problem. Immediate attention is given any problems
Trapped mice found in classroom. Spraying occurs weekends or vacations.
No systematic attempt or concerted effort. Pesticides used when necessary.
Mold in ventilating system, walls, window sills.  
The problem is never corrected.  
Our building is in dire need of repair.  
Lack of cleanliness worries me.  
Poor results.  
We continue to have roaches.  

Integrated Pest Management

Before receiving this survey, had you heard of Integrated Pest Management or IPM?

Only eight percent of all respondents had heard of integrated pest management, though 20% of food service staff were aware of it. Less than 2% of maintenance personnel had heard of IPM. In the questionnaire, a two paragraph description of IPM (see Appendix I) was provided for respondents to read, following this question.

Does your school have an IPM program?

In your opinion, would an IPM program be appropriate for your school?

Four percent of schools reported having an IPM program. Thirty percent indicated that IPM would be appropriate for their school; 21% felt that IPM was not appropriate and 42% had no opinion.

On which pest management techniques should your school place more emphasis?

Of the choices given, respondents felt that schools should place more emphasis on sealing cracks and crevices and educating staff and students about pest problems (Table 5). Teachers felt most strongly (54%) about the need for improved sanitation.

Table 5. Response to the question: Which of the following pest management techniques do you feel your school needs to emphasize more than it currently does. (Circle all that apply)

Sealing cracks and crevices
Educating staff & student in how they can reduce pest problems
Improved sanitation
Screening vents and windows
Pest monitoring for treatment decisions
Use of traps
Use of safer pesticides
All of the above
None of the above
No Answer

In your opinion, could staff and students at your school be convinced to follow simple sanitation rules in order to help reduce pests and the need for pesticides?

Most respondents agreed (63%, yes; 14%, no; 23%, no opinion) that staff and students could be convinced to improve sanitation in order to reduce pest problems.

What kind of assistance would best serve your school in developing an IPM program?

The majority of respondents felt that IPM training sessions for custodial staff and providing educational materials to school staff would be most useful in the development of school IPM programs (Table 6).

Table 6 Response (%) toward specific practices in toward developing IPM programs for schools.

Over-all Admin. Food Maint. Parents Teachers Service
Training sessions for custodial staff 74 84 76 58 89 76
Educational materials for staff 59 60 60 66 61 50
Training sessions for school staff 44 32 52 54 50 33
Educational materials for students 44 32 42 46 56 48
Training for administration 33 35 36 24 44 35
Assistance in developing contracts 26 24 42 20 33 17
Training for school committee 21 8 27 14 39 26

Summary and Conclusions

Most respondents reported the need to control pests in Massachusetts schools. Pesticides are applied at more than half of the schools, usually by an contractor as a scheduled treatment. Treatments are made most frequently in cafeterias and, secondarily, in classrooms. One-third of schools reported monthly applications of pesticide. Pest monitoring is not commonly practiced in schools.

Mice are the most prevalent pests throughout the state. These are followed by ants, bees, wasps and cockroaches. Boston metropolitan area reported mouse problems more frequently than schools from other areas. Boston also reported greater incidence of cockroaches and rats.

In general, respondents knew very little about pest control in their schools. One third did not know whether pesticides were used in their schools. More than two thirds of teachers and parents who did know where pesticides were applied. One fourth of respondents did not know who applied pesticides and one third did not know how pesticide decisions were made. Over 90% of respondents did not know what pesticides were used.

Opinion about current pest control results was mixed. Two-thirds of respondents were satisfied with the present level of pest control, including 80% of administrative, cafeteria and maintenance personnel. However, only 36% of teachers are satisfied, with 26% registering dissatisfaction. Building conditions, pest presence and poor service were the reasons most cited for dissatisfaction.

When asked what pest management practices needed more emphasis, respondents most selected building repair, sanitation and educating staff and students in how to reduce problems. Most respondents (63%) fled that staff and students would respond to simple sanitation rules in order to reduce pest problems.

This survey demonstrates a lack of awareness of pest control practices in Massachusetts schools. Because school associates rarely encounter pests, they do not think about them. However, monthly applications of pesticides to classrooms, claimed by some respondents, should present some concern to school staff and parents. School administrations should also be concerned that one-third of the teachers were dissatisfied with current pest control.

Respondents generally agreed that more educational material about IPM is needed in the schools and that training sessions for custodial staff would be beneficial. In general custodians had little knowledge of IPM.

School administrations, teachers, support staffs and parents have many important concerns in trying to provide a safe, stimulating environment for students. Pest control is not a dominant concern. Still, many schools could reduce their pest problems, and their use of pesticides, by implementing some form of integrated pest management. There are degrees of IPM implementation. For example, mouse populations in schools could be reduced by improving building repair, sealing crevices and improving sanitation. Respondents agreed that staff and students could be convinced to follow simple sanitation rules in order to reduce pest problems. These rules could be implemented as a first step in pest management.

This survey provides baseline information on the current state of pest management in Massachusetts schools. It demonstrates a range of concern, practice and satisfaction. It is hoped that the survey responses will suggest questions to school associates and the pest control industry to provide a safer environment and better service in the schools of Massachusetts.


Dillman, D.A. 1978. Mail telephone surveys, the total design method. Wiley and Sons. New York, NY. 325 pp.

Massachusetts Department of Education. 1993-1994 School Directory. 74pp.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1993. Pest Control in the School Environment: Adopting Integrated Pest Management. EPA 735-F-93-012. 43 pp.


The following references provide organizational and technical information for developing integrated pest management in school settings.

Flint, M.L., S. Daar & R. Molinar. 1991. Establishing integrated pest management policies and programs and guide for public agencies. Univ. of Calif. IPM program pub. 12. 9 pp.

IPM Education & Publications, Univ. of Calif. Davis, CA 95616-8620. $1.50

Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture. 1996. Integrated pest management kit for building managers. 50 pp.

Pesticide Bureau. Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture, 100 Cambridge St., Boston MA 02202

Olkowski, W., S. Daar & H. Olkowski. 1991. Common-sense pest control: least toxic solutions for your home, garden, pets and community. Taunton Press, Newtown CT. 715 pp.

B.I.R.C. , P.O. Box 7414, Berkeley CA 94707. $39.95

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1993. Pest Control in the school environment: adopting integrated pest management. EPA 735-F-93-012. 43 pp.

US Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Pesticide Programs. 401 M. St. SW, Washington DC 20460 free


Joe Marcoccia spent many hours contacting schools and organizing the mailings for this study. Cindy Boettner compiled the data. Trina Hosmer and her staff at the University of Massachusetts Office of Information Technologies assisted in data analysis. Don Rivard of the New England Pest Control Association provided encouragement and comments on many aspects of this study. This study was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture through the University of Massachusetts Extension Integrated Pest Management Program.

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