The Bed Bug Bureaucracy
The letter that came home in the folder my daughter's school backpack began, "We have recently found a bed bug specimen in your child's classroom. Bed bugs are a nuisance, but their bites are not known to spread disease. They are usually active and feed on blood at night. The bite is initially painless, but it may become swollen and itch, much like a mosquito bite. If you have concerns for you or your child, you should call a doctor."
I had concerns. But they didn't require a call to the doctor. They required me asking immediate questions to my child (as school was already long closed), and then following up with more questions at her school the next morning.
"Honey, here's a note that they found a bed bug in your kindergarten class. Did anyone mention that to you?" I asked my five-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
"No, Momma. It wasn't in class they found the bug. They found it on the knapsack of the girl sitting next to me while we were down in assembly in the auditorium. I showed it to the teacher, and she took it off. And then when we got back to the class, they put our backpacks into big, plastic bags before we hung them up in our cubbies."
"Are you sure about that? This letter says they found it in your classroom," I inquired further.
"Well, then Miss Robyn put it into some watermelon juice, and I think it was dead because it wasn't moving, and she said she must have discovered the perfect thing that kills those bugs, and maybe she'd be rich in the future by making a watermelon potion!"
There's a reason why children don't make good witnesses at trials.
"On advice from the Department of Health, take all book bags and clothes worn today and put in the dryer for 30 minutes, then wash the clothes and re-dry. Bed bugs spread so be careful not to mix student's clothes worn today with other clothes, couch, mattresses etc." the note went on to say.
Too late. If there was a bedbug, or more than one, it would have been swell if we'd actually seen the note long before now. My husband went into action right away, following all the directions to the extreme, while progressively itching and scratching the more he put aside. The entire evening was spent speculating if we'd be soon be dealing with some sort of massive infestation. I wondered if the amazing bed bug sniffing dog that I'd seen on TV commercials made after hours house calls.
The next morning at my daughter's school, I approached the teacher to find out what had really happened, and what kind of action was being taken to minimize any potential impact.
"It was a single bug found on the outside of a backpack, not here in the classroom, but down in the auditorium. I killed it, put it into my lunch container that had some watermelon juice--just for safekeeping. And I turned it in to the principal's office so it can be sent out for testing," she said.
Huh. So maybe my daughter would make a better trial witness than I gave her credit for.
"When will the results be back?" I asked.
"I'm told they'll be back in six weeks," she said.
"But school will be over!" I reminded her.
She shrugged, sighed and said, "That's what they have to do."
"Please be assured that we take this seriously and all protocols will be followed," the letter had pointed out clearly.
As we discussed further, it was made clear to us that the official protocol had been followed, which essentially meant that if there was a bedbug problem , by the time it was officially verified and further inspections were done, they could be dealing with a much worse infestation. "Isn't there something more that can be done now?" I asked.
I was told to take my concerns and complaints to the parent coordinator. The teacher didn't seem any happier than I was.
"That was just a form letter that went out," the parent coordinator said. "No, we didn't find bedbugs in the classroom. One was found in the auditorium. This is no big deal. We've followed protocol."
"Wouldn't it just be more efficient for the school to have an exterminator come in and identify the bug asap, and assuming it's a bedbug, which it sounds like you're fairly certain it is, they could treat the area, and check the rooms?" I asked. It seemed like a logical approach to me.
"But who would pay for that? The school or the district?" He responded. Ah, bedbug bureaucracy at the very core.
"Who can I call to make a complaint about the protocol in a case like this?" I asked.
"You could call 3-1-1 and ask them to steer you to the appropriate contact at the Department of Education. In the meantime, here's a brochure from the Department of Health," he said as he walked over to a stack of brochures outside the office and handed one to me. Obviously, they'd dealt with this problem before.
I called 3-1-1. They steered me back to the Department of Education's District Education offices. Then that office sent me to the Department of Education Complaint Line. The gentleman on that line then sent me along to the Parents' Support line, where I was then able to make a complaint to the Department of Education. I should hear back about my complaint and what I'll need to do next at some point in the next two months.
Continued on the next page