Safe pest management in schools and childcare facilities is focus of manual

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Like all living things, pests need food, water and shelter to survive, and childcare and school buildings provide an abundant supply of each, much to the dismay of administrators, teachers, staff, parents and children.

“At the very least, pests can be an annoying distraction in a classroom,” said Michelle Niedermeier, community integrated pest management and environmental health program coordinator for the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program. “At their worst, they can destroy property, contaminate food, bite or sting people, spread disease, and worsen health issues such as asthma.”

To provide a safe learning environment for children, the commonwealth requires that all Pennsylvania public school districts, charter schools, intermediate units, vocational/technical schools and childcare facilities adopt an integrated pest management plan.

To aid personnel in making those decisions, the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program, a collaboration between Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, developed the book, “IPM for Pennsylvania Schools and Childcares: A How-To Manual.” An interdisciplinary team made up of entomologists, soil scientists, wildlife technicians and agronomists — many from Penn State — contributed to the project.

Now in its third edition, the manual provides extensive pest management information on common building pests, including ants, rodents, flies, spiders, cockroaches and bedbugs, as well as information about managing weeds and pests on fields and other school grounds. While aimed primarily at school administrators and maintenance personnel, many of the principles and concepts discussed in the manual can help manage pests in any building or facility.

Credit: Penn State Extension / Penn StateCreative Commons

As Niedermeier explained, integrated pest management, often referred to as IPM, is a safer, more effective and scientific approach to managing pests. It uses knowledge of pests’ habits and needs to help implement pest-prevention tactics first and uses pesticides only when necessary, selecting effective pesticide products that pose the least risk of exposure to people and the environment.

“Children spend approximately 1,100 hours per year in school buildings,” she said. “Kids are especially sensitive to some pesticides because of their small size and developing bodies. Parents, healthcare workers and school officials are increasingly looking to reduce potential student and staff exposures to toxins in the school setting.”

The latest manual — two years in the making — is different from the first and second editions, released in 2002 and 2008, respectively, in several ways, Niedermeier noted. For starters, the book has grown from 120 pages to 184, has new chapters on emerging pest problems such as ticks and bed bugs, a section on asthma pests and pesticides, and one dedicated to protecting beneficial insects such as pollinators.

The content and design are more user-friendly than past editions. For instance, instead of using line art and sketches, the new manual features full-color photos, which Niedermeier believes will make it easier for readers to more accurately identify pests.

Finally, this edition offers guidance on additional resources that school officials can use to further expand their knowledge of integrated pest management, including links to vetted web sites, articles and fact sheets.

“Our goal from the start was to help make the school environment safe and pollutant-free, so it’s gratifying to see how far this project has come and the impact it has had,” she said. “We are grateful to those who gave of their time and talent to make this manual come to fruition.”

Also contributing were experts from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Funding was provided, in part, by the American Lung Association, the Pennsylvania Asthma Partnership, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

A hard copy of the manual is available for $39 and can be purchased at The manual also is available as a free downloadable PDF at

Last Updated March 11, 2020