SABATTUS — The discovery of bedbugs in two classrooms at Sabattus Primary School led district officials to close the kindergarten through second grade building until professional crews could exterminate the bugs later this week.
"The group came in today and discovered that there were two outbreaks of bedbugs," said James Hodgkin, superintendent of schools for Oak Hill School District. "There were two rooms where they found an occurrence of bedbugs. They were very isolated within those rooms."
Hodgkin said the discovery, made specially trained dogs, led to the decision to close the building in hopes of containing the problem. He said district maintenance crews already cleaned the rooms and a pest control company will be in Wednesday to exterminate the bugs.
Hodgkin said that the pest control company was brought in Monday to check the building after a student's parent came to the school Friday to ask about several bites on the child's arm. He said that he knew of only one student affected by the bug bites, adding that it was not clear whether or not that student received the bites at school.
"Right now, it's a pretty isolated occurrence," Hodgkin said. "We could have school, but we've decided to cancel until we can get this taken care of."
Hodgkin added that the decision to close the school came from the district level as a precautionary measure, and that it was not something the pest control company recommended.
Sabattus School Committee member Robert Gayton Jr. said that the school wanted to address the problem as quickly as possible. When asked whether the district will conduct checks at other schools or of its bus fleet, he pointed out that such measures weren't taken for lice outbreaks at individual schools.
Gayton expects that district officials will address the outbreak more closely in order to determine the next step.
"Bedbugs don't just appear in a school on their own," Gayton said. "I've lived in this town my entire life, and this is the first time I've ever heard of a bedbug infestation."
Gayle Richard, owner of Miss Gayle's Preschool & Friends Childcare Center, said that in the past the biggest infestation concern for school teachers, administrators and parents was lice. But the closure of Sabattus Primary — less than one-half mile up the road — definitely has the 36-year veteran child-care provider a bit on edge.
"Everyone that's been calling me has been stripping everything down and sticking it in their dryer on high," Richard said.
Richard said that her child care center will have 10 extra kids Tuesday due to the school closing. As of Monday night, she was lining up additional staff. She said she also plans to do some checking of her own at her building and will take extra precautionary steps to make sure bedbugs don't find their way into her business.
Richard questioned why the district wasn't closing all its schools in order to check for bedbugs. She pointed out that due to changes this year, buses now transport students in Regional School Unit 4 to schools in Litchfield, Sabattus and Wales.
The days of warning kids not to share hats is swiftly being replaced by cautions about where they set their book bags or hang their coats in the classroom as reports hit the media almost daily about the increasing number of bedbug cases around the nation.
A search of the Internet Monday night did not reveal any other school closures in Maine due to bedbug outbreaks. However, according to the website www.publicschoolreview.com, schools in New Hampshire, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado and New York City have all reported outbreaks of the pesky insects in schools.
"This is really scary. I thought lice and bullying was a big issue. Now we've got lice, bullying and bedbugs. Something has to give," Richard said.