Student Well-Being

ESEA Amendment Would Regulate School Pesticide Use

By Darcia Harris Bowman — July 11, 2001 3 min read
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School districts across the country would be required to notify parents before using bug-killing chemicals on school property, under legislation now moving through Congress.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization approved by the Senate on June 14 includes language that would require all 50 states to regulate pesticide use in schools and order districts to alert parents before spraying for roaches and other insects.

Some 35 states already have rules in place limiting students’ exposure to such chemicals, but the language in the ESEA bill would serve as the first federal regulation of pesticide use in schools, according to the amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J. The senator described the passage of his measure last month as “an enormous and hard-fought victory for the health of our children.”

The amended ESEA would require states to notify parents three times each academic year about what pesticides were being used in and around schools and when. Districts would also have to set up a registry for parents and staff members who wanted to be notified of pesticide spraying 24 hours beforehand.

“Parents will now be armed with the knowledge they need to protect their children from potentially harmful pesticides when they send them to school,” Mr. Torricelli said in a statement.

The Torricelli amendment won support from groups normally at odds over the use of pesticides: Both the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides/Beyond Pesticides and the National Pest Management Association, the only national trade organization for pest-management companies, agreed to the final language in the bill.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to sit down this summer to work out differences between their versions of the ESEA reauthorization. The main federal law on precollegiate education, the ESEA encompasses a sweeping array of school programs. The House version of the bill, which passed May 23, does not include the pesticide provision.

Critics Raise Concerns

Similar legislation died in a House committee two years ago. Sen. Torricelli’s proposal also faces opposition, primarily from members of the House Agriculture Committee.

In a June letter to Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Rep. Larry Combest, the Texas Republican who chairs the agriculture panel, asked that his committee be represented in negotiations on the provision. The congressman said the legislation would not provide funding to state and local education agencies to help them comply with its provisions and would also amend a law under the agriculture committee’s jurisdiction.

But an aide to Sen. Torricelli predicted last month that the pesticide industry’s backing would smooth the amendment’s passage into law.

“This has the full support of the pesticide industry, so we’re hoping we can rely on them to speak with members and get everyone behind it,” said Debra DeShong, Mr. Torricelli’s press secretary.

Gene Harrington, the manager of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said last week that members of his organization will meet with House Agriculture Committee staff to learn more about their objections.

“We’ll certainly convey our support to House agriculture staffers and try to mollify any concerns they have,” Mr. Harrington said.

The bill does not, however, enjoy the backing of at least one prominent education group. The National School Boards Association opposes the amendment and will work to get it cut from the ESEA bill in the upcoming House-Senate conference committee.

“The bottom line is that we just feel like it’s an overly burdensome and costly set of regulations for school districts,” said Lori Meyer, the director of federal legislation for the NSBA, based in Alexandria, Va. “But we don’t want to totally close the door on any negotiations with the senator’s office.”

The bill would require all states to develop pest-management plans—with an eye toward encouraging alternatives to traditional chemical sprays and bug bombs wherever possible—and to submit them to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for approval. Each district would also have to assign a qualified person to oversee the pesticide plans.

Kagan Owen, the program director for Beyond Pesticides, defended the measure, arguing that although some states and districts have aggressive programs in place to limit the use of pesticides, federal regulation is needed to fill in the gaps.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2001 edition of Education Week as ESEA Amendment Would Regulate School Pesticide Use

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