Officials scramble to exterminate chiggers

City school's infestation a first for most

May 31, 2007|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Baltimore's school buildings are the oldest in Maryland, so whether there's a leaky roof or a broken boiler, officials are used to having things go wrong.

But a school infested with chiggers?

"I've never heard of chiggers in my life," said Alice Watson, a longtime school system official. "It's a first for me."

The trouble began Friday afternoon at Violetville Elementary, when a teacher noticed on a classroom windowsill a slew of the mite-like bugs, known for bites so itchy they feel like a poison ivy rash. School administrators called pest control, pest control came with pesticide after classes had been dismissed, and officials figured everything would be OK by the end of the long Memorial Day weekend.

They figured wrong. On Tuesday morning, the chiggers were there again, some dead, some alive. The kids made it through the day of school before pest control came back and sprayed some more.

Yesterday morning, teachers were taken aback by the smell of pesticide, and some asked to go home. Classes were dismissed at 11 a.m. The school will remain closed today as pest control sprays yet again - this time with a less offensive-smelling pesticide - and officials hire a private contractor to exterminate in the woods nearby. Classes are scheduled to resume tomorrow, which is an early-dismissal day in city schools because of parent conferences.

Located in the southwestern part of the city near the Baltimore County line, Violetville has the distinction of being an urban school located beside heavy brush, where the chiggers can cultivate.

Keith Scroggins, the school system's chief operating officer, said his office has not received any complaints of students or staff being bitten by the chiggers. Scroggins doesn't have any personal experience with chigger bites, but from what he reads, they sound nasty.

"They bite your skin," he said. "If the skin dies, they eat it. Like poison ivy, you just keep scratching."

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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