Custodial crew focuses on safety, COVID-19 prevention

A man sprays cleaning solutionHank Lamont took aim with the Clorox 360 and activated the sanitizing mist. He swept the machine’s nozzle over the classroom, steadily spraying 2 to 4 feet away from all surfaces, moving from top to bottom. The sanitizing mist from the machine is safe and dries quickly. No wiping is required.  

“It’s easy to use,” Lamont said, as he shared how he and his fellow custodians are working together to clean and sanitize both the Schoharie Elementary and Jr./Sr. High Schools. Their working arrangement this year is quite different than in the past, and the Clorox 360 is just one of many tools to fight against COVID-19.

As Schoharie CSD looks ahead to our third month of classes and the transition from fall to winter, we know it hasn’t been easy for anyone.

A school district, with elementary and jr./sr. high schools and its own transportation system, has a lot of moving parts. Even before COVID-19, getting all of those moving parts turning in the same direction and in tune with one another was never an easy task, even without being in a pandemic.

Bus drivers, teachers, teacher aides, teaching assistants, cafeteria workers, psychologists, nurses, counselors, principals, office staff and especially our students and their families have had to drastically change how they live, learn and work in the 7 months since Schoharie CSD was originally closed 

One group of workers at Schoharie CSD has also made significant adjustments to their daily schedules and routines – our custodial staff.

In the decades before COVID-19, custodial staff were sometimes seen during the day to clean up a spill, but the bulk of their work was reserved for after the school day ended. Much of it went unseen, as they labored in a mostly empty building. Not anymore.

In order to keep the school clean and sanitized before any student takes a seat in class, and just as importantly, cleaning and sanitizing the school throughout the day, significant changes were made to the daily schedules and routines of custodial staff. 

It wasn’t easy, according to Director of Facilities Shawn Gathen.

Planning for reopening began even before the last virtual bell rang for the 2019-20 school year. It continued throughout the summer. A key question that needed to be answered was how to keep the school clean and sanitized throughout the school day, especially when district was implementing a model that included a large majority of student learning in-person every day.

“There were multiple variations before we settled on this. It was very difficult to come up with the final plan on how we were going to clean the entire building,” Gathen said.

The biggest change to occur – and the one that makes it all possible – is having all custodial staff work the first shift.

The school day works like this:

  • Custodial staff start their day at 7 a.m. by cleaning and sanitizing the Elementary School because elementary students are the last to arrive when their school day begins.
  • They then split up into the two different buildings, to clean and sanitize through the day.
  • Because jr./sr. high school students are the first to leave the building, the custodial crew reunites to clean rooms and common areas at that school.

This results in clean spaces for both schools before the start of each school day and allows the district to have enough staff for proper cleaning and sanitization during the day.

“When the students get here it’s clean and sanitized,” Gathen said.

A man empties a garbage canGathen oversees a workforce of eight custodians and three maintenance personnel. Because Schoharie CSD, like many schools in New York state, is not having any extracurricular activities, at least within school buildings, there has so far not been a need to staff a custodian for the second shift. Nighttime custodians used to be the norm.

“That’s the way schools have run in the past, but it was pretty difficult to maintain sanitation levels during the day,” Gathen said.

This is especially true for “high touch” areas such as door handles, faucets and surfaces in common areas.

Custodial staff members are also trained and prepared to equip themselves with more extensive PPE should there be a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the school. That gear includes Tyvek suits and is intended to help protect them as they work to make the school safe for our students and staff.

All of it together, including the academic scheduling; staggered start and end times for the school day; protocols on mask wearing and social distancing; daily attestation forms; and the combined custodial shifts is part of Schoharie CSD’s system to prevent COVID-19, minimize cases should they occur and keep students in classrooms learning to their highest potential possible.

“There is a lot at stake,” Gathen said.