The New Mexico Department of Education wants schools to be more environmentally friendly in getting rid of pesky pests.

The department is proposing regulations that would require schools to apply chemical pesticides only when a problem exists. That would end periodic preventive spraying. The agency also is proposing that parents and staff members be notified at least two days in advance of spraying.

Supporters say the goal is to encourage cleanliness, and to close paths that pests use to get into a building. But critics contend some portions of the rules are overzealous and show a lack of understanding of modern pest-control methods.

Reports on injuries to children from exposure to pesticides “are fairly conclusive,” said John McPhee, childhood injury prevention coordinator for the state Department of Health.

“From a childhood injury standpoint, it is the same as a child riding a bicycle without a helmet,” he said. “They may sustain an injury from overexposure that may be permanent.”

McPhee said children and infants are more likely than adults to be injured by exposure to pesticides, and the proposed regulations are common-sense preventive measures.

The state Department of Agriculture, pest control companies, and some school officials question whether the rules will let schools effectively control pests, such as cockroaches, ants, and termites.

The rules could prevent treating buildings for termites during construction, for example, said Bruce Carter, president of the New Mexico Pest Management Association.

Groups that back the regulations don’t understand modern methods of pest control, said Carter, owner of Carter Services, a pest control company in Farmington.

The Albuquerque School District, the largest in the state, is working to reduce chemical use by regular inspections and humane traps to catch animal pests, said Fred Montano, supervisor for building services. The district uses foam in cracks and other methods to keep pests from getting inside buildings, Montano said.

“A major part of it is going to be cleanliness, get rid of the crumbs and dispose of all the food particles,” he said. “If we contain that, we are doing a good job.”