Although schools were initially closed to curb the spread of the pandemic, the move has given our custodial teams the opportunity to work ahead.

In March, the staff immediately began detail cleaning and disinfecting, much like they would do in our normal summer deep cleaning program. In April, some of the staff began cleaning our classroom rugs and other large carpeted areas. Meanwhile, others began scrubbing floors and applying floor finish.

When the decision was made to not have students return in May and we received word that there would be no summer school program, we launched right into our floor restoration projects. We were so far ahead of our cleaning and floor restoration work that it was becoming apparent that the majority of our district buildings would be completed by the end of June or early July.

The staff started asking what we would be doing in July and August, prior to teachers returning to the classroom. Those that have the time will be able to take a long vacation, but for those that remain, there was plenty of work to do.

Before opening to students and staff, we are increasing the number of hand sanitizing stations available from roughly 120 dispensers to 450. Plexiglass partitions are being installed in office locations. Detailed cleaning checklists have been developed and will be placed in all restrooms and above drinking fountains. We are also reducing classroom furniture so as to encourage social distancing.

With plans to have students eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom, we've added centralized trash receptacles to be placed in hallways. Tape was also placed in strategic locations to indicate one-way foot traffic and to help students entering and leaving the school to keep a safe, six-foot distance. Buildings were also set up in zones to keep students separated as best we could. New entrances were created to spread the volume of students entering in the morning.

With everything that has changed since COVID-19 began, there will be a greater emphasis on cleaning high-touch surfaces as often as possible during school hours. Although we have always emphasized this in our cleaning program, it will be very different for our staff.

We will spend weeks training and retraining our staff on best practices for cleaning high-touch surfaces as often as possible. There is also a possibility that we'll have to bring in a second custodial staff person to help — disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and helping teachers and staff with traffic flow of students might be their main job.

Looking back at the start of COVID-19, I can see we have made great progress, but being prepared for the start of school will be a huge challenge. And there's still the question of our plans and procedures if a COVID-19 case occurs in a building once school resumes.

Michael Jones is the director of custodial services at Columbia Public Schools in Columbia, Missouri. He has 30 years of experience in operations management, 17 of which have been with Columbia Public Schools. He serves as a Steering Committee Member of Healthy Green Schools & Colleges, a joint venture between Healthy Schools Campaign and Green Seal. He launched a district-wide "Green Initiative" in January 2009 based on the Missouri Green Cleaning Guidelines and Specifications for Schools, which earned two Green Cleaning Awards: 2010 Best New Program, and 2011 Grand Award for School Districts.

previous page of this article:
Reopening Requires Multi-Department Planning