HALLOWELL — Regional School Unit 2 has decided to spray the grounds at Hall-Dale Elementary in Hallowell to rid fields of ticks after students have found larger-than-usual numbers of the potentially dangerous arachnids this spring.

Gordon Murray, RSU 2’s director of buildings and grounds, said at Thursday night’s Facilities, Nutrition and Transportation Committee meeting students at Dresden Elementary School counted 80 ticks in one day after their recesses. At Hall-Dale Elementary, Murray found 45 ticks on the edge of the school grounds.

Murray said while the state typically does not like to use pesticides near schools, such a response has become necessary at RSU 2 schools due to safety concerns and the amount of time needed to make sure students and others at schools are free of ticks.

Murray said he had only seen dog ticks at both schools, based on what teachers have given him to examine and through his own research, but noted that is “not to say there are no deer ticks.”

The school district has not sprayed the grounds in the past. If they do so, they need to provide a seven-day notice. A three-day notice is required during vacations.

The issue came to the attention of parents and of city councilors, who wrote to RSU 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold asking the district not to spray until after a public hearing is held. Hallowell officials then reversed course and asked RSU 2 to spray.

Arnold said the school district “does not take this lightly, and there are issues on both ends.” She said the “disruption of education” is the main reason officials decided to spray the fields.

Dawn Gallagher, an RSU 2 school board member representing Hallowell, recommended the district contact the city to ensure ordinances are being followed if spraying takes place. She noted Hall-Dale Elementary School is also home to the Hallowell City Gardens.

Gallagher said she wished councilors would have mentioned an ordinance in their May 11 letter to Arnold, Murray and the school board. She said the school district should make sure councilors provide a written OK with the spraying since it was interim City Manager Doug Ide who had given the word to move forward.

Ide said Friday he spoke with Murray, not Arnold, about the spraying issue. He said he did not give an OK, but had a discussion about the matter and suggested they wait until a public hearing could be held. He said district officials are able to do as they wish.

“I know we don’t take votes (at facility meetings), but I’m not ready to say go forward without those things,” Gallagher said. “While I appreciate all sides of things, ‘Challenges’ was on the agenda, but not the issue, so I get concerned about public notice on all sides.”

Jon Hamann, RSU 2 school board chairperson, said legally the schools do not need permission from the city. He also said the letter from the city said to not do it based on opinions, not on ordinances.

“We can get headstrong on anything we do if there are a few minority comments,” Hamann said. “We want to make sure we are not overreacting to the comments when it’s perfectly legal.”

Parent Hillary Roberts and her husband, Michael Johnson, attended the Thursday night Zoom committee meeting but did not get a chance to share their thoughts on the matter. They sent a letter to Arnold, Murray and the school board with 113 signatures from Hall-Dale parents.

“The simple reality is that these chemicals have been deemed safe and our school has met the threshold warranting their use,” Roberts wrote. “As you’ll note in our letter, children are being exposed to both dog and deer ticks every day.

“Children are finding ticks on their bodies or being bitten by ticks at alarming rates. This happens daily and children are finding anywhere from 2-3 ticks on their bodies up to 10-12 ticks on their bodies while simply trying to enjoy 20 minutes of recess or outdoor education.”

According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the number of dog ticks seen so far in Maine is “really high for this time of year,” with deer ticks numbers being down in comparison. Dog ticks are not as dangerous as deer ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, but can still transmit diseases.

Lindsey Mattson and Patrick Wynne, who are also parents, attended the meeting to share their thoughts.

Donna Seppy, a RSU 2 board member representing Monmouth and chairperson of the Facilities, Nutrition and Transportation Committee, said she did not think it necessary to hear the three parents’ thoughts because committee members were in favor of spraying and discussion was not on the agenda.

“I don’t hear a disagreement and want to be respectful of our time,” she said. “We hear the concern, but want to move forward with the process and get things moving so we can hire a contractor to do the perimeters of the school and take care of the problem. I think it’s good to have a public forum, but at this point, I think we should move forward.”

Wynne, a Hallowell city councilor, wrote in the Zoom chat, “I disagree.”

He later told the Kennebec Journal he attended the meeting as a “concerned parent,” not a city councilor.

“Science is the substrate of a good policy,” Wynne said. “I hope the RSU uses this delay in spraying to let science drive its decision.”

Kathryn Marseglia, an RSU 2 school member representing Dresden, said her community has been asking for tick control “for years.”

Murray said Hall-Dale is the priority because students are there during the summer, while Dresden less so because there are less than three weeks of school left.

“It is worse at Dresden this year,” Murray said. “We don’t get as many complaints from the high schools because they aren’t in bushes, but those two elementary schools (Dresden and Hall-Dale) are the highest count. The question with Dresden is, ‘Can they handle it?'”

The schedule for when spraying will be done is still in the works, but Murray said he will move forward with contacting pesticide companies.

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