It’s late at night and the students are long gone, but Ukiah High School is far from empty.
Out from the nooks and crannies of the school’s buildings, walls and sidewalks emerge its creepy crawly nocturnal inhabitants — cockroaches — waving their long antennas as they skitter across the campus.
“They’re all over,” said parent Cambria Milani, who with sister Alisha Marin is at the forefront of a fresh effort to force the school to beef up its assault on the bugs after three years of lackluster progress. Their tactics include creation of a Facebook page dedicated to the cockroach infestation. It has more than 1,800 members.
The critters’ widespread presence is proof that the school’s three-year battle against a cockroach infestation has failed to seriously curb the insects, which are now spreading to surrounding residential neighborhoods, the sisters believe.
Monday night, the two, flashlights in hand, visited the campus to collect samples of the insects following a pesticide application over the weekend. The pesticide apparently killed a few cockroaches inside the buildings. Their carcasses could be seen through glass doors. But it did little damage to the families of insects continuing to thrive outside, where there are plenty of crevices, leaves and trash to use as hiding places during the day. The garbage cans also were nearly full, providing more dark, cool spots and food sources for the cockroaches. Several water fountains were thick with bird feces, a product of the swallows nesting on the buildings.
The campus was still lit up at 10 p.m. Monday, keeping the bug activities fairly low. Still, families of roaches, from tiny, ant-sized babies to inch-long adults were easy to spot. Once the lights turned off at 11:30 p.m., hoards of bugs came out of hiding, Milani said.
“It was just unbelievable,” she said.
Ukiah school officials were unavailable to discuss the problem on Monday or Tuesday. But the Ukiah Unified School District issued an email to parents last week, saying it was doing what it could to address the infestation, rotating the types of pesticides it uses and boosting efforts to discourage the pests by cleaning up the campus. The district said it intends to increase custodial staff but the solution will require everyone, including students and teachers, to keep the campus clean.
The school district “will not stop until we have the problem under control,” district Superintendent Debra Kubin stated.
Last year, Ukiah school maintenance officials blamed the drought for the problem, saying the roaches likely were looking for water.
The problem, like cockroaches themselves, isn’t new to schools. Infestations apparently are regular occurrences, according to nationwide news reports. Mendocino County Public Health Director Dave Jensen said schools have a harder time eradicating the pest because they are limited in the kinds of pesticides they can use, unlike private homes.
The pesticides used to kill cockroaches are among the harmful effects of infestations, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Cockroaches also can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive individuals and transport diseases from place to place.
The cockroaches found at Ukiah High School are not native to the United States. They include the Turkestan cockroach, which is used as food for pet reptiles and is believed to have initially hitched rides to the United States on military equipment.