Ants invade Oak Park High School

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“They’re on the walls, on my desk, everywhere!” said math teacher Jacquelyn Lac, referring to the infestation of ants in Oak Park schools across the district.

According to Superintendent Dr. Tony Knight, ants prefer to forage during summer as their bodies can’t handle the winter temperatures.

“When it gets really hot outside, [ants] are looking to get out of the heat and find any type of water source. When people leave any kind of food out, they come after the food,” Oak Park High School Assistant Principal Jason Meskis said.

According to Knight, while the ant issue occurs every year, this year’s pests have been more difficult to deal with and get rid of.

“This particular ant [species] we are having problems with is an invasive species, meaning they aren’t native to the area and do not have any predators, making them a giant nuisance,” Knight said.

Both teachers and students agree that the ants are a distraction in classrooms.

“It’s kind of hard to focus when there are ants against the wall and I’m scared that they will come in my backpack,” said freshman Shreya Maddhali.

Lac, echoed Maddhali’s opinion about the ants.

“They come up onto my desk and crawl around,” Lac said.

The school has already started taking steps to solve the crisis. Using the Integrated Pest Management system, the district initiated a step-by-step extermination process, using a non-toxic boric acid product.

The school has, in the past, placed peppermint oil kits, cinnamon and diatomaceous earth around campus to repel ants. According to Meskis, there is a possibility that some students and teachers might react to peppermint oil or cinnamon, so the school asked teachers to turn in all forms of the kits.

“If any student is allergic to either the peppermint oil or cinnamon, they can just let us know and we’ll stop the use of it in the classrooms,” Meskis said.

If the ants continue to enter the school after the repeated extermination attempts, the school will resort to a state-approved toxin to clean up the problem in certain areas. This process is the final step in the Integrated Pest Management system and will only be used as a means to hopefully provide a definitive end to the ant problem, when necessary.

“Our process is progressive and sometimes inconvenient, but it’s definitely safer for your health,” Knight said. “These ants won’t kill you, but toxins and chemicals may be hazardous.”

Students can assist by informing yard supervisors of which buildings are infested so that they can spray and clean the area.

Cleanings occur at different time periods in rotations at every Oak Park Unified School District school. The earlier issues are reported, the earlier the room is ant-free.

“The ants are attracted to the food and moisture from the students’ lunches, so if you’re bringing your lunch to school make sure everything is in a sealed container and that your lunch bag clean,” Knight said. “An even better solution would be to not bring food at all and eat in the cafeteria.”

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