We can't leave poison around children who don't all understand 'don't touch' and who may eat anything from a Pritt Stick to a governor's report

1st July 2005 at 01:00
We have mice. No, not just the computer kind that sits on your desk, gets clogged with Hob Nob crumbs and has a mind of its own when you're trying to complete a report that should have been in yesterday. I mean the long-tailed, furry, stand-on-a-chair, lift-up-your-skirts-and-scream kind. We know we've got them because they've been eating our clothes: so far, two woolly mittens (not a pair, of course), one Fireman Sam outfit, and a jumper. And they've been leaving their droppings: in the sensory room, under the play frame and on top of the mirrored box.

We've had an emergency meeting. "Do you have any food lying about?" we ask the team from the infested class. "Well, yes, there's Damien's Wotsits, Jack's gluten-free, dairy-free custard creams and Amy's peach-flavoured thickened drink." Well, all that will have to go into mouse-proof boxes.

But what should we do about the infestation? In a special school we can't leave poison around young children who have difficulty understanding "don't touch" and who may eat anything from a Pritt Stick or a governor's report to school custard and Pot Noodles. We also don't want to come in each morning to find bodies. Or, even worse, have the children find them (remember, they don't all understand "don't touch" and some will eat anything).

We could learn to live with them, of course, but it's not really an option if they keep eating the dressing-up clothes. We must take some of the responsibility too. We do tend to throw food around - just ask the cleaners. After snack time the floor takes on the golden hue of crushed Wotsits; sensory cooking sessions can result in mango chunks and coconut yogurt being flung far and wide; even an art session can end with tasty Play-Doh and yummy cornflour goo being spread about to the temptation of rodents everywhere. So we have got to get tidier and they have got to go.

We draw up a list of options and eliminate most of them as we go through it: no poison (the children might eat it), no mousetraps (the children might catch their fingers in them), no sonic devices (the children might be able to hear them), no cat (who would look after it in the holidays?). We end up asking Chris the caretaker to buy some humane traps. They are little boxes with a one way see-saw so the mouse can get in but can't get out; they are captured alive so Chris can then take them to the woods, the windmill or the school down the road.

We all stand around listening as he tells us how it works. "They come in this little hole here," he says, "and I'll bait them with..." "Cheese?" I suggest. "No," says Chris, "what they really like is a bit of chocolate."

Everyone turns to look at me. "What?" I protest. "Well, you did once eat the children's good work chocolate stars..." This is true, but I was working late and was really hungry. "And there was that time you ate the class box of Roses and replaced it with another box from the garage, but it had a different package, so we all knew..." Also true, but I'd stayed on after school for a governors' meeting and I'd forgotten my sandwiches. Do my colleagues really think I'd steal the chocolate from a mousetrap?

Apparently they do, so I promise not to raid the little boxes and the traps are set. Each morning we ask Chris for the "tally" and they seem to be working. We've only lost a Shrek mask and a feather boa this week, and there have been fewer droppings. I'm still wondering about getting a school cat, though. The thought of those lovely chunks of chocolate lurking in plastic boxes is beginning to play on my mind, and I wouldn't eat Whiskas, no matter how late I stayed at school.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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