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Astoria leaders fuming over bedbug find

Elected officials from Astoria were furious after the news broke that PS 70 on 42nd Street had the worst bedbug problems in the city and did not inform administrators or students.

“This type of negligence puts students and teachers at risk, and prevents families from taking necessary steps to protect their children,” state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said in a statement.

The department confirmed a news report that it found seven bedbugs in a closet at PS 70, at 30-45 42nd St. in Astoria, on Dec. 8. Unlike previous incidents, evidence indicated the bugs were breeding within the school rather than its being a case of one or two bedbugs carried into the school from the outside. Officials were not notified, but a new protocol for informing schools and parents of infestation was implemented soon after.

“There was evidence of breeding last winter in one closet in one classroom in a school system of 1,600 schools,” the city Department of Education said in a statement. “The bedbugs were removed.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said this was one of the worst incidents involving bedbugs he had ever heard of and called the evidence that the bedbugs were breeding “frightening.”

“Once the bedbugs are found to be breeding, then the extermination process has to reach a whole other level of seriousness,” Gianaris said.

There have been more than 3,500 cases of bedbugs in schools reported this year, a better than three times spike compared to 2010’s 1,019 cases.

When Gianaris was an assemblyman, he wrote the Bed Bug Notification Bill for New York City Public Schools, which requires parents to be alerted about a bedbug problem in a school and provides tips on how to prevent the bedbugs from spreading. While the bill was signed into law August 2010, the senator said the DOE did not technically break the law because the measure did not go into effect until February 2011.

Nevertheless, Gianaris said that since his bill was set to become official policy, the DOE should have notified parents. He wrote a letter to city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott last Thursday requesting an “immediate explanation and investigation” into the issue.

“They need to get their act together,” Gianaris said. “I hope it was just incompetence and not an attempt to cover up the fact that they found the bedbugs in the first place.”

The senator said bedbugs have been an issue in Long Island City-area schools for at least four to five years.

“I’m disgusted by the fact that years after we first identified the problem we’re still dealing with the lack of information being passed around appropriately,” Gianaris said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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