An infestation of fleas at Roosevelt Elementary School forced classes to relocate and led to multiple rounds of pest control, not to mention more than a few bites.

The combination of heat and humidity apparently helped to transform the campus into breeding grounds for the wingless insects, which live off the blood of mammals and birds.

Numerous classrooms at the Montana Avenue school were affected by the outbreak, which Santa Monica-Malibu school district officials were working to contain.

“We understand that this situation is of great concern to parents and staff and we are giving this problem our full attention,” SMMUSD officials wrote in a letter to Roosevelt parents last week. “The safety and health of our students is our top priority. We appreciate your patience while we try to end this outbreak of fleas on the Roosevelt campus and return the campus to a safe and nurturing learning environment.”

The matter was brought before the local Board of Education by the district’s acting facilities manager, Carey Upton, at its meeting on Oct. 15.

“Roosevelt was hit rather extensively with fleas,” he said. “It is impacting instruction and making people very uncomfortable.”

The district will have to spend beyond its existing contract with Stanley Pest Control as a result of the infestation, SMMUSD spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said, but an exact figure was not immediately available. Additional custodial and grounds staff have also been called to help at Roosevelt.

The district received complaints about fleas at Grant Elementary School as well, Upton said, but the campus was checked after the recent school board meeting and officials determined that it didn’t need further attention.

“If we discover any confirmed cases,” Pinsker said, “we will treat where needed.”

On Oct. 2, Roosevelt principal Natalie Burton notified the parents of students in two classrooms about the problem after teachers and students reported being bitten.

Children were moved to another classroom and the infested rooms were treated, first with an organic non-toxic substance and then with a stronger non-toxic pesticide. Carpets were also cleaned Oct. 3.

Those solutions were not effective, though, and fleas were later found in at least 15 total classrooms.

The district reached out to Poison Free Malibu for a recommendation, but the nonprofit’s suggested pest control company was unable to address the issue in a timely manner, Pinsker said.

All classrooms on campus were treated Oct. 10 with a flea-killing spray called Precor 2000 Plus and the building exteriors were treated with Tengard SFR insecticide, according to district officials. Notices were posted on campus. Recreational youth activities through Playground Partnership were canceled that day.

Custodial crews then cleaned, mopped and vacuumed the rooms the following day to have them ready for students Oct. 12.

Fleas still remained in at least seven classrooms by Oct. 16 and a feral cat was recently spotted going under a campus bungalow, leading the district to schedule another round of pesticide treatment for the following day. The rooms were cleaned and aired out before students arrived Monday.

Crews were going to “pull everything out and get every crevice and corner,” Upton said.

jeff@smdp.com

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