Even in a normal year, cleaning and sanitizing are a priority the two weeks before school starts. The hallways of school buildings are filled with steam cleaners, electrostatic sprayers and various other sanitation devices.
This year, the focus on cleanliness and safety is even greater as custodians and maintenance personnel prepare the buildings for students in the midst of a global pandemic.
“We’re doing everything in our power to keep everybody safe,” said Aaron Cole, director of maintenance and transportation for USD 257.
“This is the first time all of us are going through something like this, so we need help from everybody to keep this the safest environment we can.”
The district has invested in extra cleaning supplies and sanitation products. That includes additional electrostatic disinfectant spraying devices and hospital-grade disinfectant. A large amount of hand sanitizer has been purchased, enough for each classroom and multiple stations throughout the buildings, especially at entrances.
Students will be required to wear masks when they return to classes Aug. 24. The district has purchased enough masks so that students can wear a new one every day. Students also can bring masks from home.
All water fountains will be converted to fill bottles only. Most of the fountains at the middle and high school have been converted. The equipment to retrofit the fountains at the elementary schools was expected to arrive any day.
Some sanitation products have not yet arrived, despite being ordered months ago. Cole remains optimistic that these products will arrive soon.
Cole also ordered a special biotech product that works in conjunction with the electrostatic sprayers. High-touch areas like door handles, lockers and light switches will be sprayed with disinfectant, then sprayed with the biotech product. The product will kill germs on contact and cannot be washed away by general cleaning. It lasts about 90 days.
Teachers and students will be expected to play a role, too.
Each room will have disinfectant and paper towels for teachers and even students to wipe down desks and other areas throughout the day.
“The district has been very open to providing as much material as we need to make sure we have the safest school possible,” Cole said.
MAINTENANCE staff are well-practiced in sanitation, Cole said. During winter break when the cold and flu season is at its height, as well as during the summer break, crews conduct deep cleaning and sanitation measures of all school buildings. Staff will be taking those measures a step further, Cole said.
“This is a little different than what we’d do during flu season,” Cole said.
THE DISTRICT hasn’t hired extra maintenance personnel because of the pandemic, but crews are fully staffed and schedules have been adjusted that give additional hours to some members.
For example, hours have been added to cafeteria workers and bus drivers who will be expected to spend more time disinfecting surfaces.
Students who ride on bus routes have been notified of rule changes.
All passengers will have an assigned seat, filling the bus from back to front and spacing out children to one per seat with exceptions for younger students or those from the same household. The driver will take temperatures when a student boards the bus. The use of hand sanitizer is expected. Everyone must wear a mask.
Drivers will clean and disinfect buses between each route.
Faculty and staff have been receptive to the new rules, Cole said.
“I think everyone understands we’re only putting these policies in place to ensure we’re doing everything we can to keep everybody as safe as we can,” he said.