Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Schools: Background and Overview

Covers resources related to integrated pest management in K-12 schools.

Background and Overview

This topic hub introduces the concept of integrated pest management (IPM) to improve the health and safety of school facilities, while preventing waste and pollution. The contents are applicable to all educational institutions from preschools through universities.

What is IPM?

The IPM Institute of North America defines IPM as an approach to solving pest problems by applying knowledge about pests to prevent them from damaging crops, harming animals, infesting buildings or otherwise interfering with our livelihood or enjoyment of life. IPM means responding to pest problems with the most effective, least-risk option.

Why is IPM important?

Students occupy schools 60% to 90% of the year. Most schools are densely inhabited and frequently cluttered. Schools are often energy inefficient and are poorly sealed, with many cracks under doors. Classrooms provide spaces that literally invite pests in by offering food, water, and shelter. Learning activities can use food, excessive amounts of paper, and animal research that readily attract pests.

Pests are not merely nuisances. They also present health risks. Many transmit disease and trigger asthma and allergic reactions. Certain pests are common in schools. They threaten the health of children, especially younger students in early child-care centers and grades K-3. Young children have increased risks associated with pests because of issues associated with development of their bodies.

Some common pests found in schools and risks associated with them include the following:

  • Cockroaches and flies that spread disease are suspected of triggering asthmatic reactions from decaying body parts and droppings.
  • Hymenoptera (wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, bees) stings are painful and in some cases life-threatening.
  • Ants and termites may carry disease-causing organisms and can cause structural damage.
  • Lice infestations are uncomfortable depending upon the level of sensitivity.
  • Spider bites, though uncommmon, may be painful and can present health risks.
  • Fleas and ticks may carry disease, present health risks and can cause discomfort and possibly allergic reactions.
  • Mice and other rodents can contaminate food, cause structural damage, spread disease, and trigger allergic reactions.
  • Mold contributes to decreased indoor air quality, can create structural problems, and in some cases also attracts insects.
  • Weeds can trigger asthma and allergic reactions and create habitat for non-desirable insects and animals.

Management of pests--inside and outside--can present long-term health risks for students and staff. Conventional pest control (i.e. monthly spraying) does not address conditions that attract and promote pests, ensuring future pest problems and continued use of pesticides. Traditional methods to control pests have exposed schools to a wide range of chemicals, including some that are potentially harmful. Traditional methods for managing pests have included the following:

  • Routine pesticide spraying
  • Automatic spraying at the first sign of insects or pests
  • Over reliance on aerosol pesticides such as bombs, fumigants, and sprays
  • Little consideration for conditions that attract and promote pests
  • No recognition of or differentiation between harmful and nuisance pests.

The State of Illinois requires all licensed child care centers to have an integrated pest management (IPM) program in place.

Learning outcomes

By using the information in this guide, school administrators and facilities managers will be able to: 

  • Better manage school pests and reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides
  • Develop a comprehensive IPM plan for the school;
  • Determine levels of acceptance of "nuisance" pests and recognize hazardous pests
  • Access policy changes that affect school health and pest management
  • Understand the biology of individual pests and how to monitor the populations
  • Reduce costs for managing pests and reallocate those funds to education.

Benefits of IPM in schools

  • Educate students, teachers, and administrators about associated health hazards of pesticide and herbicide overuse
  • Promote safer management of pesticides and herbicides in schools
  • Encourage use of alternative products and procedures that do not contain harmful chemicals
  • Prevent pest infestations through thorough sanitation and comprehensive monitoring
  • Encourage schools to monitor effective trends in IPM
  • Bring the message home, so that students and their families can use IPM in their homes; explore reasons for using IPM instead of traditional methods; and learn about alternative solutions that include sanitation, monitoring, and "uninviting" pests into the home.


Essential Links