PAWTUCKET — School officials say they are working to eradicate a pesky mice problem that has recently erupted at the Agnes Little Elementary School.
The Times received several phone calls last week from unidentified individuals saying their children had reported seeing mice at the school—some dead and others alive—and were concerned about health and safety issues. Two of the callers said that besides seeing the rodents running around the school, there was a foul odor, apparently from dead mice, and that there were apparent mice droppings on the floors, desks, and other surfaces.
One of the callers, who apparently works in the school but declined to give her name, said that a teacher took a paper bag home from the school and found a mouse inside it, and that a mouse had also jumped out of a student's backpack that had been hanging on a peg in a closet. She also said there had been reports of as many as three mice at a time running through classrooms, causing a disruption to the teachers.
None of the callers would give their names, citing concerns about privacy and possible retribution. Yet, all were critical that not enough had been done by the school administration to correct the problem, and brought up potential health issues ranging from germs to asthma. Several of the callers stated the same thing: that the school should be temporarily closed and “bombed” with pesticide.
Principal Mary Murphy acknowledged that there have been some mice sightings and said that an exterminator had been brought in last week to deal with the problem. “We're aware of it and we are working on it,” she said, but referred further inquires to the Superintendent of Schools. Schools Supt. Deborah Cylke also acknowledged there has been a problem with mice found inside the school, but said it was not something that was considered to be widespread or a health hazard.
She confirmed that an exterminator had visited the school last week and has been asked to come back. She also said that Murphy has taken other steps in regard to monitoring food storage and trash containment.
Cylke said she had not received any calls from parents on this matter herself, but said it was possible that a child could have seen a dead mouse caught in a trap and might also have experienced a foul odor coming from this before the trap was collected. She said she was also told about one case where a live mouse was seen near a child's backpack However, she said she has not received any reports about mouse droppings on desks, floors, or other surfaces.
“The principal has taken all of the appropriate steps to address the problem, and she continues to be concerned,” said Cylke. She said that in addition to the exterminator being called back, extra efforts are being made to ensure that any garbage or trash collected in classrooms is securely contained, and that Sodexho, the food service vendor, is keeping all food properly stored.
“This is a pest problem that is common at this time of year, but, of course, we want to have a clean and safe environment,” noted Cylke. She further acknowledged that the sight of a mouse, whether dead or alive, “is not pleasant” for either students or staff, but said there is a methodical plan in place to eradicate the problem. She further said that the principal would be sending out a notification to parents to let them know of the situation and the actions that are being taken.
“Parents want to know their children go to a clean school and we're making every effort to make sure these mice are driven out and to have a clean school,” said Cylke. “If I felt that we had a health problem, we would probably have to take other steps. But we are going to be bringing the exterminator back in.”
School Committee Chairman James Chellel said he had not personally received any complaints from either parents or teachers about a mouse problem at Agnes Little. John Haidemenos, the principal of the Jenks/JMW Arts Complex located next door to Agnes Little, also said he had not heard of any issues with mice in his building.
School Committeewoman Joanne Bonollo, who chairs the School Committee's Health and Wellness Committee, said she had received an e-mail and a couple of calls about the matter. She said, “We are aware of it. We've had the exterminators in and they have been called back, and we have asked Sodexho to take extra care with their work,” she said. She also said that there is a Facilities Sub-Committee meeting on Tuesday where the matter will be discussed.
Bonollo added that if the situation is not rectified, other actions will be taken. “We will take every necessary step to ensure the health and safety of our students,” she added.
Joseph Scallin, the School Department's director of physical plant, said last week that he was aware there had been some problems with mice at Agnes Little, but said that at this time of year, it is not unusual for mice to try to get inside and away from the cold. He said that each fall, he typically gets a complaint about “one or two mice” at just about all of the school buildings, and noted that Agnes Little is located next to a field, which potentially makes the problem worse.