Rodents spotted in Stoga: Conestoga students, staff see mice around the building

Rodents spotted in ‘Stoga: Conestoga students, staff see mice around the building

By Jui Bhatia and Aren Framil, Co-Opinion Editor and Co-News Editor

In the early morning of Jan. 29, as science teacher Dr. Derrick Wood set up for the day and began his classes, he was greeted by an unexpected visitor — a mouse.

“I saw a student that came for some extra help before school. He paused at the door, and he said, ‘I thought I saw something,’” Wood said. “About five minutes later, I saw a mouse come into the room from the hallway right as my first few classes were starting.”

With help from science teacher Dr. Scott Best and junior Charlie Gawthrop, Wood captured the mouse and released it outside near the track. Wood had also previously found mouse droppings in his classroom.

Wood is not the only person to have spotted a mouse or evidence of mice in the school. Senior Anika Kotapally said that mice have been present in the music wing for multiple years. She recently started spotting them in the upstairs atrium wing, finished in 2021, where Wood currently teaches.

“I saw a mouse run across the hallway from Mr. Trainer’s room to Mrs. Wolfe’s room. It ran right out of Mrs. Wolfe’s room and right into Dr. Best’s room,” Kotapally said. “I don’t want to kill them — that’s not the way — but it is just insane.”

Other students have seen mice in the hallways and large spaces such as the cafeteria, atrium and library. Sophomore Shriya Bhattacharya said that she has seen mice in the cafeteria during lunch.

“It was just roaming around here. Then it went back in the vending machines, and then the adults came and caught it,” Bhattacharya said.

Social studies teacher David Zimmerman has consistently seen a mouse in his room since winter break. He nicknamed the mouse “Jerry” and said it occasionally comes out during class.

“It’s a little bit embarrassing, frankly. Students are pretty good about sort of rolling with the punches. But if we were having a parent meeting or something and a mouse rolled out? That’s not what you want,” Zimmerman said. “I think (the school is) trying. I do think they’re making an effort to try to get the mice.”

Administration implements rodent control measures

TESD is required by state law to abide by Integrated Pest Management (IPM) procedures, which are outlined in district Policy 8012. The policy states the district’s goal to implement pest prevention procedures that are “environmentally and economically sound and socially responsible.”

According to the policy, schools are only permitted to implement pesticides and chemical pest treatments after considering all other alternatives.

District IPM coordinator Colm Kelly said that he has received one or two reports of mice a week from Conestoga for the past few months — an increase from previous years — but has not yet resorted to pesticide treatments. Instead, he has directed Conestoga’s custodial staff to lay out snap mouse traps, focus on reducing food waste that may attract pests and block possible building entry points for mice.

“We instruct (custodial staff) to empty all of the garbage food containers as frequently as possible. We ask the administration to see that the students dispose of their food correctly and to report any sightings because that tells us where we can set additional traps,” Kelly said. “We have numerous times gone around the perimeter of the building and checked for any access points where they could possibly get in and made all of the repairs that we could find, but in reality, they only need a quarter of an inch to get into a building.”

Noah Austin teaches engineering classes in the upstairs atrium wing and said that mice have eaten some of the food in his classroom and chewed through scrap PVC pipe in the fabrication lab.

“I ended up going out and getting my own mouse traps first. I set them up, and I reported the problem to administration,” Austin said. “After I reported the problem, there were mouse traps that were put in my room by an exterminator.”

Twelfth grade assistant principal and facilities director Dr. Patrick Boyle is working with district maintenance staff as well as an outside pest control contractor company, Orkin, to manage the mice population within the school. According to Boyle, maintenance personnel come in daily before school to check the traps and catch mice. So far, they have caught multiple mice in places where staff had reported sightings.

“When we get a report of any sightings, and if they’re new to certain areas, we continue to do the same thing: putting traps down, making sure poison’s available and trying to do the best we can,” Boyle said.

Art teacher Leanne Argonish reported a mouse sighting in the art office in the downstairs atrium wing on Feb. 15 after school while meeting with some students. The next morning, Boyle contacted district maintenance staff and contractors, who arrived before school to investigate the sighting.

“Immediately, Dr. Boyle reacted and set up mouse traps and communicated with us,” Argonish said. “Then someone saw exterminators checking things out and taking care of business.”

Crime scene: Caution tape is jokingly pinned up in English teacher Michael Trainer’s room next to a masking tape outline of a mouse and a sticky note
which reads “Careful! Cuidado!“ Trainer set up the tape and outline with the help of science teacher Dr. Derrick Wood aer seeing a mouse in his classroom. (Mareska Chettiar)

What the presence of mice means for Conestoga

Students and staff began to spot mice in the newest wings adjacent to the atrium in December 2023.

“It had never been an issue up here since we moved in. We had heard about issues downstairs in the old part of the building for years,” science teacher Janet Wolfe said. “We thought we were kind of in a mouse-free space up here.”

Teachers in older parts of the building have also observed an increase in mouse sightings compared to previous years. Zimmerman, who has taught at Conestoga since 1992 and has a classroom in the oldest part of the school, made similar observations.

“The mouse problem is about as bad as I’ve seen it over the years. I’ve worked here a long time. There have been mice here and there, but there’s more this year,” Zimmerman said. “I think they’ve just taken up residence here, and it’s not so easy to get them to move out.”

According to Boyle, while there are many reasons for the increase in mice sightings, previous construction could have displaced mice living on the land where the atrium stands, causing them to seek out warmth and food inside the building, especially in the winter.

“I can only assume that, when you disturb land, you’re gonna have land that animals live there. We are in a huge amount of land right here that we took over and built this building on,” Boyle said.

Conestoga is looking to implement a “Lunch and Learn” program next year, which includes extended lunch periods and expands areas where students can eat, which may increase litter in those areas.

“If we’re going to invite students to eat in all sorts of non-traditional spaces, then my concerns would be making sure that we have a good system in place,” said English teacher Ben Smith, who has seen mice in his classroom. “That would be more trash cans, better protocols and expectations for students and staff, and better communication about how we need to take care of our spaces in general.”

TESD has to abide by federal, state and county regulations for food safety. According to the Chester County Health Department, the county administers a Retail Food Inspection Report twice a year, which includes criteria for Prevention of Food Contamination, requiring insects, rodents and animals to not be present. The health department last inspected Conestoga in November 2023 and found no contamination or rodent violations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diseases can spread from contact with mice. The presence of mice in areas that serve food can also contaminate packaged foods and potentially cause serious illness, especially in immunocompromised individuals.

If a school is found to have a presence of mice, the county would require eradication measures, such as working with a licensed pest control operator, limiting food sources and eliminating entry points, all of which the district says it is currently doing.

“We’re working on it,” Kelly said. “We have a plan: We have a maintenance person putting down additional traps, we have an outside contractor helping us and we hope to put this behind us in the very near future.”

Jui Bhatia can be reached at [email protected].

Aren Framil can be reached at [email protected].

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