Last spring, Portland-area parents thought they'd won the pesticide battle. In May 2001, under pressure from parents and teachers, the Portland School District ordered that pesticides be the last resort for ridding schools of six-legged intruders. The Environmentally Sustainable Business Practices policy also gave schools the option to become "pesticide-free," thus shielding children from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Last month, however, parents at Maplewood Elementary learned that exterminators used the insecticide Advance to kill ants inside their children's school over spring break--even though the school had petitioned to be pesticide-free.

The active ingredient in Advance is abamectin, a Class IV toxin suspected of damaging the human nervous system and impairing eyesight.

The strongest warnings concern Advance's use near food. The pesticide was applied in a room next to the kitchen and cafeteria at Maplewood, a Multnomah Village school with 300 students.

Maplewood parent Karen Bishop called the use of abamectin "disturbing" and characterized the pesticide as "far worse than the problem."

Maplewood principal John Blanck isn't troubled by the use of abamectin as much as the breakdown in procedure. Under the new rules, principals have the final say on pesticide use, but Blanck was not involved in the decision. "I understand why [the custodian] did what he did--to save time and not bother me," Blanck said. "But I definitely want to know."

Parents agree the broader problem is a lack of concrete procedures. "Now, nearly a year after adoption of that policy, we are very frustrated at the district's lack of developing procedures," Maureen Havenner, a member of Portland Parents for Alternatives to Pesticides, wrote in a letter to school officials.

To its credit, the district has jump-started its Integrated Pest Management committee in the aftermath of the spring offensive at Maplewood, and the committee has already drafted new procedures. But parents remain skeptical: A similar incident at Forest Park Elementary last year also inspired a handful of meetings and a new set of custodial procedures.