It’s never easy implementing a new program. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that has to be done first, in order to have a successful result. Employee buy-in is a must, which is why we work closely with the staff to promote green cleaning.

Training is an important part of any green cleaning program and that’s no different here at CCSD. District custodial and maintenance staff receive more than 20 training hours throughout the year. That training covers everything from cleaning procedures, equipment and indoor air quality, to chemical storage and disposal, bloodborne pathogens and soft skills topics.

Additionally, there is active communication with the District School Nursing Department to provide information that assists in specialized targeted cleaning in schools and classrooms. The goal is to reduce student absenteeism related to asthma care plans. The department has a 24- to 48-hour response to indoor air quality or moisture complaints that follow the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools” program.

We’re also working together with our school nurses to collect data on attendance and test scores. The school nurses in the 41 classroom buildings within the district share health and absence reports with the custodial department and the administration, which helps track how well the green cleaning program is keeping our kids healthy. This puts our custodial staff on the front lines of that mission, right along with the teachers and nurses.

Our program has been very successful to date, but nothing is perfect. We have experienced challenges along the way. In fact, one of the biggest challenges we faced after removing chemicals from our schools was products being brought in from home by teachers and parents.

It is our mission to eliminate all outside cleaning products from every classroom. This is a large undertaking, as these products would previously top school supply lists that are sent home at the beginning of the school year. But the key to changing the pattern is education.

Studies show that test scores are always the same or better, and attendance is often improved as a result of implementing a green cleaning program. Sharing this type of information with parents and teachers helps support cleaning initiatives.

Launching a green cleaning program has its challenges, but there are definitely positive results when all parties work together to promote healthy and safe schools. 

KIMBERLY THOMAS is the Executive Director of Plant Services & Custodial Operations at Clarke County School District in Athens, Georgia, as well as a founding member of Healthy Schools Campaign’s National Green Cleaning Schools Leadership Council. Her department has been recognized as the winner of the Green Cleaning Award for Schools and Universities’ Honorable Mention in 2014, as well as for its commitment to green cleaning and sustainability from the Healthy Schools Network, Environmental Protective Agency-Georgia state office, and US Green Building Council – Georgia division. Prior to her role at Clarke County, she was the Assistant Director of Services for the University of Georgia – Facilities Management Division, which won the Green Cleaning Award’s Grand Award in 2010.

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