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Schools Exercise West Nile Caution

Bill Zeeble

Some Dallas County cities are getting ready to launch aerial mosquito spraying, to combat West Nile virus. School districts are also faced with protecting students from the disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Right now, they’re comfortably inside, practicing for the first football game. But to get their marching moves down, Highland Park High School band director Reagan Brumley says his players have to be outside too.

Reagan Brumley, HPHS band director: The reality is we have a performance two weeks from now for our parents, and then the week after that for our first football game. We have to be prepared to do that really well. And so the morning and evening, that’s when we need to be out there to keep the kids safe from the heat.

But that’s also when mosquitoes are most active. West Nile virus has already struck at least eight Park cities residents, killing one. Brumley tells students to slather on insect repellent. Student leaders, like senior Sam McKee, a drum major and horn player, say they keep repellent on hand for those who forget.

"People recognize the threat. It’s something we all need to be aware of and treat with caution but the school district and the city of Dallas are spraying everywhere for mosquitoes," he said.

Highland Park and Duncanville school grounds have been sprayed. But not in Dallas, Fort Worth, or Richardson. Tim Clark, with Richardson ISD, says common sense is the district’s guide.

"Insect repellant is one, wear long sleeves if possible, is another. Again that can be difficult to digest because of the extreme heat. But typically in the early morning, it’s not quite as hot," he said. "And if it’s just a walk to school maybe take steps to make sure as much of their body is covered during that walk that they can then take off a layer once they get to school."

School officials  say groundskeepers are also filling in holes to eliminate possible pools of water where mosquitoes can breed. Highland Park parent Joe Clifford isn’t that worried. His son will play freshman football.

"I think West Nile is a threat to people with compromised health. Kids playing freshman football are not going to be threatened by death from West Nile," he said. "It would be worse to lather them up with DEET than it is to let them try to fight through something if that one-in-a-thousand chance happened."

Dallas County officials say teens have come down with West Nile Virus, but the vast majority of those infected here were at least 50 years old. School districts across North Texas have posted information links about West Nile on their web sites. No districts we contacted ban outside activities or plan to.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.