The Shenendehowa Central School District plans to change its pesticide policy, after it was revealed the district failed to notify the state about the treatment of sports fields, as is required by law.
Since September of 2015, according to board of education agendas, the district has repeatedly passed resolutions to allow application of certain pesticides and herbicides in "emergency situations" on school sports fields.
The issue was first reported by CBS6.
In 2010, state education law regarding pesticide use at schools and day care centers changed. Under the new law, pesticide use on turf, playgrounds and athletic fields is prohibited, except in emergency situations where the chemicals are required to mitigate an "imminent threat to human health." And such applications require that the district notify the state Department of Health before the chemicals are applied.
The new law also gives public school boards the authority to decide which situations qualify as emergencies and the boards can pass resolutions to address those emergencies. But they must also, before application of the pesticide, make a "good faith effort" to inform the Department of Health about the intended use of the chemicals by filling out a form that includes, at minimum, the name of the person or entity doing the pesticide application, contact information for the business or person doing the application, the location and date of the application, the name of the product that will be used and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registration number associated with the chemical.
Since Shenendehowa's current pesticide protocol was put in place, in 2015, the school has not notified the Health Department of pesticide applications, according to school officials.
Under the law, schools must also include the reason for the emergency application, and law specifies that emergency applications cannot be ordered for a recurring issue.
Hundreds of students use the fields every day, said school spokeswoman Kelly DeFeciani. If weeds are permitted to grow unchecked, the result will be an uneven field, which could lead to ankle and leg injuries.
Jim Harris, a Clifton Park resident with children in the school district, now has a grandson at a Shen elementary school. He questioned the district's classification of the situations as emergencies. School leaders' failure to notify the state about the pesticides for the past five years, he said, was also a clear violation of the law.
"The board should rescind the resolution [to apply pesticides], or at least the most recent one," he said. "How would they know six months ahead if it's an emergency?"
The district's most recent pesticide treatment was approved by the school board on Sept. 11. In that resolution, the district states its intent to use pesticides on five sections of field on Shen's main campus off Route 146. Treatment will include eradication of crabgrass and broadleaf weeds.
The resolution also included a treatment in the spring to preemptively "eradicate the invasive weeds and insects that are causing serious turf deterioration."
Only specific pesticides and herbicides can be used in emergency situations, under state education law. Documents that list the pesticides and herbicides used by Shen during the 2018 school year list Barricade herbicide, fertilizer, and Escalade 2 herbicide. None of those chemicals are restricted for use by the Environmental Protection Agency.
DeFeciani said Shen has applied pesticide on athletic fields four times each year for the past three years -- twice during the school year, typically on Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekends, and twice during the summer.
"We try to do it over a long weekend," DeFeciani said.
"What the board has been doing, as allowed by state law, is taking it as a local decision made by the school board under a recommendation from the administration," she said. "They can decide whether or not there's an emergency."
The school board and administration consider the deterioration of fields a health risk for students, even though the applications are recurring, DeFeciani said.
"That puts our athletes at serious risk of injury, which district officials believe is an emergency situation," she said. "We have put in sprinkler systems and sod when needed to help the situation, but it is not enough."
She acknowledged that, over the years, the district failed to notify the Health Department about the pesticide applications, but the district will make such notifications in the future, now that officials are aware of the requirement. Shen has complied with the state requirement that schools send notifications to parents, staff and others in the school community about the pesticide applications, DeFeciani said.
The pesticide application notices are also posted on the district's website and are included in a district calendar that is mailed to all parents, DeFeciani said.
Parents can also sign up to receive alerts that will be sent out 48 hours before any pesticide application.
No one is allowed to use the fields for 24 hours after pesticide treatment, according to the district.
"The district consistently takes steps to ensure application is done with at least 72 hours (3 days) grace period, often longer ... to ensure the safety of students and to ensure the integrity of the treatment is not impeded," DeFeciani said in a prepared statement. "The district has never willfully violated any regulations, has never applied any illegal pesticides and, in fact, took steps that are consistent with the applicable laws and regulations. The district continues to await further clarification from [the state Education Department], as to exact steps or changes in practice that need to be made by the district."
The Department of Education, according to NYSED spokesperson Jeanne Beattie, confirmed the state will be working with Shenendehowa going forward.
Shen did not use pesticides on its fields for three years as a result of the law change. Consequently, the condition of the fields quickly declined, DeFeciani said.
DeFeciani could not comment on specific changes being made to Shen's pesticide policy, other than incorporating notification to the Health Department, as the board of education has yet to discuss the matter.
Harris hopes the state's involvement will do more than force Shen to change its practices. He would like to see an end to pesticide use all together.
Exposing students to chemicals that have even the slightest potential to make them sick is a risk the district should not take, he said.
"Kids play on the fields every single day," he said. "They're putting the health and safety of all the children at risk."