Cockroach Infestations on County School Busses Raise Health and Safety Concerns
UPDATE: 4/6/2016, 12:36 P.M. – The woman who initially asked to remain anonymous has now agreed to reveal her identity. Nicole Baker is the subject of our original report.
Baker says “I decided to come out because I feel like I’m on the same side as the school board, transportation, teachers, parents, students and bus drivers. I want it fixed just like they do. I don’t believe that this is an intentional problem on their behalf I think that it’s something that got out of control and needs to be fixed and I think anybody on the planet would agree.”
HERNANDO – The rigmarole of preparing children for school each day often consists of finding a matching pair of socks, flattening a cowlick and rushing them off to the bus stop – granola bar in hand. But for some local children, boarding the bus each day has turned into a fight over a place to sit, and it’s not with other students.
Last week, RNRF began receiving tips from parents who say German cockroaches have taken over their children’s school busses. Some say their children have seen the disease ridden insects walking on the backs of fellow student, while traveling back and forth to school.
The mother of two Explorer K8 students, who wished not to be identified, agreed to meet with RNRF today to discuss the problem. We’ll refer to her as “Julie” throughout the article, as Julie is working towards a securing a teaching position with the District, and fears she’ll be “blackballed” if she reveals her true identity.
Julie says that her son and daughter brought the problem to her attention last Thursday after she picked them up from the bus stop.
Julie contacted the Hernando County School Board on Friday but says she did not receive a response to her complaints.
On Monday, Julie called the Transportation Department and spoke with a receptionist who told her that she would receive a call back from their call center, and then proceeded to give her a case number. Not surprisingly, says Julie, she has not received a call back from their “Call Center.”
Julie took her complaint to social media, where numerous parents and even some school bus drivers responded – proving that the issue is systemic and not an isolated incident.
In a private message, one bus driver told Julie that when she turns on the interior bus lights in the morning, she sees hundreds of roaches scatter all over the bus. On Monday, the same bus driver drove a different bus, while her usual bus was supposedly being treated for pests. When she inspected an area under one of the bench seats last night, she discovered dozens of live roaches hiding within the cracks. (See photo below)
Concerned that bus drivers may speak to the media about the problem, the Transportation Department held a meeting on Monday, where employees were told “if you speak to anyone about this issue (referring to the cockroach infestation) you will lose your job.”
Despite that threat, a Transportation employee told Julie that the busses were treated last Friday, Monday, and will be treated again this coming Thursday. But even after the last two treatments, Julie says the busses are still full of roaches and none have been found dead.
German cockroaches are known for their ability to transmit a number of pathogens, including E. coli, Salmonella spp. and Typhus. Studies even show that it leads to the development of asthma in some children.
Julie is concerned that a driver could get distracted while driving; which could lead to an accident and possible injury or death. Some bus drivers say it’s not unusual to have roaches crawl across their steering wheel, the windshield, or even up their legs.
Yesterday, a driver says she had 5 children screaming about the roaches while they were en route to bus stops. All the bus driver could do was scream back at the children – telling them to “Step on the roaches,” as she continued driving.
We contacted the HCSB and asked the following questions: How often are busses and schools treated for insects? Have measures been taken to resolve the problem? And will the District take immediate steps to resolve the issue? In an email, HCSB Public Information Officer, Karen Jordan said “The transportation department is taking measures to eradicate any presence of bugs. They have treated over 80 buses at this time and will be completing the rest within several days.” Jordan went on to explain that busses are treated twice a year unless a driver reports a problem.
We asked Jordan what kinds of chemicals are used by the District; she replied “The pesticides are plant and/or botanical based. Some parents voiced concerns over the use of “Green Pesticides,” stating that they are ineffective and a waste of money.
According to a 2015 HCSB report, Bingham Professional Pest Management was awarded a three-year contract to handle the District’s pest control. We attempted to contact a representative of Bingham, but a receptionist told us that the owners were out of town.
That same report states that the lowest bidder was chosen to handle pest control.
Because German cockroaches are so difficult to exterminate, parents are concerned that if one cockroach crawls into their child’s book bag, they’ll be paying hundreds of dollars to rid the nasty creatures from their own homes.
Like other parents, Julie wants the District to publicly acknowledge the problem and improve their communication efforts with concerned residents.
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