Interview with Ruth Kerzee

Ruth Kerzee is a public health professional at the non-profit Elevate, headquartered in Chicago, IL. There, she works as a Senior Project Manager for Water Programs and IPM. Read our interview with her to learn about Illinois school IPM and her past work with Chicago schools.

What is your background with school IPM? 

I started in School IPM in 2005 with the Safer Pest Control Project, motivated to protect children’s health and lowering overall pesticide use at schools. My job there was to encourage Chicago schools to adopt IPM. After some time, Chicago Public Schools adopted and implemented an IPM policy as a standard operating procedure. I have worked with many school districts over the years, trying to move them towards using IPM indoors and outdoors. At my current position, I work more with residential businesses and structural IPM.

One of the requirements allows schools to not have an IPM plan when it is not economically feasible. How is “economically feasible” determined? When it is not economically feasible for a school to enact a formal IPM plan, are there other actions schools can take to reduce their pests and pesticide use? 

Currently, there is no set way to determine economic feasibility. In my experience, schools were not given a template to use or instruction to determine economic feasibility. We found the concept of IPM was often unclear to schools without any IPM training. Identifying the true costs of implementing IPM is difficult as it deals with sanitation, water issues, building envelope maintenance and clutter management which are, also, good building management practices. This overlap often gets lost in translation for schools trying to calculate the cost of implementing IPM.

What are the largest barriers to school IPM adoption in Illinois and how can schools overcome them? 

Working with schools to adopt IPM was a learning process for us, we first looked at how the industry expressed IPM. Our organization would give schools binders that included all the information and templates they needed to implement an IPM plan. This process seemed to overwhelm schools, so we backed off from the binders and thought about what we really wanted to communicate to schools. To make the process more user friendly for Illinois schools and childcares, we encouraged schools to think about building management with an eye to pest control. This would allow them to think of pest management as part of a wholistic building management plan instead of a standalone, additional program. Focusing on the key elements of good building maintenance and how it intersects with pest management seemed to ease anxieties and open the door to IPM.

How to make the law more effective? More training or other changes? 

I have not personally been involved directly in school related IPM for the last five years. When I engaged with that work, I would have wanted more technical assistance for folks and more support for people managing large buildings and campuses. Building maintenance is closely related to IPM and there should be more state funded education detailing that connection. The current law in Illinois requires schools that opt out of IPM to have a staff member complete a full day training about pests and applicable education every five years. I would like to see that training made more effective with a clear objective of helping schools develop an IPM plan. I would also like to see a school IPM coordinator re-instated at the Illinois Department of Public Health. When I was at the Safer Pest Control Project, we worked very hard to get a school IPM coordinator for Illinois. We were successful, but unfortunately the state never filled the position when that employee left.

Do you work for a school in Illinois? Enroll in our free “Integrated Pest Management in Illinois Schools and Childcare Facilities” training.

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