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Hays Free Press: Rodent Population Flairs Up at Kyle Elementary School

4/11/2013

Concerned parents, teachers and staff at Kyle Elementary School in Hays CISD want the district to step up efforts to remove mice and roof rats from the school, saying the problem has gotten out of hand in recent months.

Evidence of rodent feces, chewed electrical wiring and gnawed ceiling tiles prompted concerned parents and employees to talk to the Hays Free Press about the situation. No employees would speak on the record, saying they were told in staff meetings the situation was under control and not to discuss it. Parents were hesitant to go on record as well; one mother said she loves the school and the role it plays in the community and she is not looking to stir up trouble – her main concern is to ensure the district is effectively dealing with the problem.

On Thursday evening, Principal Ann Conley sent an email to parents explaining the situation and asking for their understanding as the administration works to remove the pests that have taken up residence.

Her email explained the steps the district is taking to mitigate the problem, including exclusion (blocking entry points), humanely exterminating the rodents with traps, and increased custodial and sanitation practices.

District officials say no rat poison has been used to kill the unwanted guests, in part because of the presence of children but also because there is no way to predict where the rodents will die – which means they could die in the walls, creating an even worse situation.

Hays CISD spokesperson Tim Savoy said the situation flared up in December during a cold and dry winter. He said the rodents are mostly in the older part of the school, some of which dates back to 1939.

“There have been four sightings of rodents since December,” Savoy said. “Much of the other evidence, including chewed ceiling tiles and electrical wires on the clocks is concentrated in the old Kimbro building.”

He added there have been some issues in the teacher’s lounge and in a classroom cabinet as well.

One parent said her fourth-grader has seen mice tails. Several teachers said they found rat droppings among some handouts in a classroom cabinet.

Several parents and staff wonder if the new roof put on the school last summer stirred up the pesky residents and forced them down into the walls of the buildings.

An additional concern is that the courtyard animals – beloved by the children and staff – that grace the campus could be attracting mice and rats. One deceased rooster was found in the ceiling near the library. The theory is that a rat killed it and drug it up there where it began to smell bad.

Monica Malone, general manager of J&J Pest Control in Austin, said rodents can get in older building much easier than in new ones.

“Roof rats can fit into the space the size of a quarter,” Malone said. ‘’They enter through various kinds of vents – gables, soffits, ridge – plus weep holes and other spots where age has broken down the barrier between the outside and the vent shaft.”

She also said the prolonged drought in Central Texas makes a situation like the one at Kyle Elementary worse. Hays CISD Director of Maintenance R.C. Herrin agrees.

“Rodents really need three things – a place to live, water and food,” he said. “We are working to eliminate as many of those conditions as possible.”

However, Malone said if it was her job to deal with the situation, she would take her chances with using poison because rat urine and feces is well known for carrying diseases. She suggested using a black light to see the bodily fluids left from the rodents to get a handle on their location and patterns.

To deal with the rodents, Herrin’s integrated pest management team has been sealing off as many openings as they can find at the school, creating more exclusions to limit the number of rodents entering. They also use traps to humanely exterminate the rodents. He said the team monitors the situation daily.

Hays County Health Inspector Eric VanGaasbeek said in his experience with schools, the older ones tend to have more of these types of problems than newer ones.

VanGaasbeek has not received any complaints against the school for the rodent issue. He may consider moving the school up in the rotation for it spring inspection, noting that schools are inspected twice a year.

Some quick research on roof rats shows that it is not surprising to see an increase in the number of rodents, particularly roof rats, at this time of year.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, roof rats breed throughout the year but more so in February and March and again in May and June. A rat’s gestation period is about three weeks; the female can have up to seven baby rats per litter. Females begin reproduction at three months old.

One parent said she feels the rapid reproduction is more than the district can handle; she said the rodents breed faster than they can be exterminated.

Conley told parents that the integrated pest management team continues to monitor the campus buildings daily.

“No rats have turned up in our traps in the last two days, which means we’re making great progress,” she wrote.

She added, “It probably goes without saying, but it’s always a good idea to remind your children never to touch any wild animal, including rodents, they may come across. Also, if they do see a rodent – tell an adult.”

Conley said in her letter to parents that the school is “probably going to always have some rodents who take up residence with us.”

And while she acknowledged the problem has been higher-than-normal recently, she concluded, “We don’t consider it anything to cause alarm.”
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