School districts in all 50 states would have to notify parents before using pesticides on school property, under legislation now being considered by Congress.
The Senate’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act–approved June 14–includes an amendment that would require all states to regulate pesticide use in schools and order districts to alert parents before spraying for insects.
Some 35 states already have rules 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 amendments sponsor, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J.
The legislation would require all states to develop pest-management plans, with an eye toward encouraging alternatives to traditional chemical sprays wherever possible, and to submit them to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval.
It also would require school districts to notify parents three times each academic year about what pesticides were being used in and around schools and when. Districts would 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,” Torricelli said in a statement.
The amendment is supported by two groups normally at odds over the use of pesticides. Both the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides and the National Pest Management Association, a national trade organization for pest-management companies, reportedly have agreed to the bill’s terms.
But similar legislation died in a House committee two years ago. The proposal also faces opposition this year, primarily from members of the House Agriculture Committee.
In a June letter to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Rep. Larry Combest, the Texas Republican who chairs the agriculture panel, reportedly asked that his committee be represented in negotiations on the provision. Combest said the measure would not provide funding to state and local education agencies to help them comply and also would amend a law under the agriculture committee’s jurisdiction.
Also opposing the measure is the National School Boards Association, which believes it creates “an overly burdensome and costly set of regulations for school districts,” Lori Meyer, NSBA’s director of federal legislation, told the newspaper Education Week. Supporters of the amendment argue 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.
House and Senate negotiators are expected to sit down this summer to work out differences between their versions of the ESEA reauthorization. The House version of the bill, which passed May 23, does not include the pesticide language.