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Parents halt pesticide spraying at Outdoor School

Spraying for ants and wasps didn’t take place as planned Nov. 11 at the Talent Elementary Outdoor Discovery School after parents protested against a pesticide application that appeared to conflict with ongoing practices.

Concerns were voiced that the application was contrary to procedures to reduce spraying on Talent Elementary School grounds. A plan developed in 2014 has eliminated most spraying for vegetation control at Talent Elementary, but does not cover spraying for insects and other pests.

Spraying did take place at the main school and at the Phoenix-Talent School District’s four other campuses.

Later that Friday afternoon, about a dozen adults and a dozen kids gathered to draw attention to the district’s spraying.

“We were just out raising awareness and gathering again to see what we could do in the future,” said Kristen Mackey, who lives with her four children just across from the school.

“I’m sure there are alternatives,” said Mackey. “I don’t know where they sprayed. My kids could be playing in the grass and being exposed.”

The Outdoor School is located in a separate building across W. Wagner Street from the main school campus. Notices of the spraying were posted at the school 48 hours in advance, although the district’s Integrated Pest Management Plan requires only a 24-hour notice. That's when parents saw the notices and became concerned.

“I had a call within an hour of posting on the outdoor learning center,” said Jon McCalip, district facilities manager. “They weren’t happy and didn’t want me to spray it.”

McCalip then called off the application. District Superintendent Teresa Sayre said she was responsible for the confusion because she didn’t tell McCalip, a new employee, that the outdoor school was excluded from spraying. McCalip subsequently met with Outdoor School teachers to discuss the situation. Parents and teachers say they plan to present the district with an alternative plan on how to control pests at the site.

Volunteers from the Rogue Valley Pollinator Project weed regularly at the school to reduce spraying. The only spraying for weeds at Talent Elementary is on the decomposed granite track, said Sayre.

“It’s just about impossible to weed the track,” said Sayre. “So we do a minimal amount of spray, that’s the only place.”

Zhavanya Leib, a parent of an Outdoor School student who lives a block from the school, said she would like to see students become involved in the weeding to assist the Pollinator Project volunteers.

“It’s a lot to keep up on as community members,” said Leib. “We’d love it if the kids could do some kind of community service.”

Leib said she would like to see the district revise its pest-management plan, and she said she is researching how other area schools may be using organic compounds for control.

Pests can include rats, fleas, pigeons and head lice. Monthly inspections are made for pests at all district buildings, said McCalip. The district contracts with Sprague Pest Solutions for quarterly spraying.

Spraying was done at all five school sites Nov. 11, the Veteran Day holiday, when children weren’t in classes and to allow the entire weekend for the spray to dissipate before classes resumed, McCalip said. The spraying was preventative to preclude the use of more aggressive measures should an infestation occur, he added.

Talstart Pro was the insecticide applied, said Mackey. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, bifenthrin is the active ingredient in Talstart. It can be highly toxic to fish and aquatic organism, but has low toxicity to birds. Bifenthrin did not cause birth defects in rats. It is a possible human carcinogen based on studies in mice, although rats didn’t develop cancer when fed the chemical.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.