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Custodians, staff keep students healthy

In a time when in-person learning has perhaps never been so important, local custodians are rising to the challenge to keep schools clean and students safe.

In a Tuesday, Aug. 31, interview, Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent Dr. Daisy Hicks spoke about the daily efforts to protect students and staff from the coronavirus and the unsung heroes leading the charge.

According to Hicks, the school contracts with ABM Custodial and Ground Services. When facing the challenges of this school year, Buckingham’s first focus was returning to in-person instruction safely. In order to make that happen, a comprehensive site assessment was completed for BCPS, and the schools received a detailed cleaning to ensure all buildings were safe for occupancy.

In planning for students’ return, Buckingham implemented a frequent high touch point disinfection process in which surfaces that are touched frequently by multiple people, such as door handles and bathroom fixtures, are recurrently cleaned and disinfected.

The school is utilizing newer technology in its cleaning efforts, as well.

“We also added electrostatic spraying as an additional measure of disinfection that goes beyond high touch points and resets our schools so they are ready for occupancy the next day,” Hicks said.

An electrostatic sprayer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a device that works by applying a small electrical charge to aerosols when passing through the nozzle. The charged droplets emitted by the device adhere easier to environmental surfaces.

Hicks noted in preparing for the school year, ABM established an expert advisory council composed of external leading experts in infectious disease and industrial hygiene. The council, she said, advises team members and clients on the best practices of COVID-19 sanitization, including new equipment and technologies and specialized custodial training.

Local and national health experts also play a large role in the school’s cleaning efforts.

“We are constantly adjusting based on new recommendations from the CDC, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other government agencies,” Hicks added.

Mitigating virus spread in school has required extra effort from everyone, and behind every sanitized door handle or squeaky-clean surface at BCPS is a dedicated custodial worker.

The team, as of Tuesday, consists of two district supervisors as well as nine daytime custodial workers and 14 nighttime custodial workers spread out among the preschool, primary school, elementary school, middle school and high school. There’s also one custodian at the school’s Career and Technical Center, one custodian at the School Board office and one at the bus garage.

Before the pandemic, Hicks noted, the ABM team performed high touch point disinfecting once per day.

Since COVID-19’s arrival in the community, Buckingham’s custodial team now disinfects no less than three times per day with broader disinfecting performed after school hours.

On Tuesday, Hicks highlighted the importance of making sure the schools are well-sanitized, particularly now.

“With the rise of more transmissible COVID-19 variants such as delta, it is extremely important to remain vigilant about cleaning and disinfecting to keep our students and employees safe,” she said. “While COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person to person, COVID-19 as well as other viruses such as flu and other bacteria can contaminate surfaces that students and staff touch. Our first priority is always safety.”

As beating the coronavirus is a group effort, Hicks added students and employees can do their part to help keep the school community healthy and safe by staying home when sick or displaying COVID-19 symptoms.

The school has provided a screening form for each family and staff member to use prior to sending their child or children to school or reporting to work. Everyone is encouraged to follow mitigation strategies put in place by the school, including wearing a mask properly over the nose and mouth, social distancing when possible, washing hands thoroughly and sanitizing hands frequently.

Signs are posted throughout the buildings to remind students and staff of the importance of these efforts. Additionally, students are encouraged not to share school supplies, and teachers are provided with a variety of disinfectants to clean desks and other high traffic areas within the classroom after each use.

With CARES Act funding, the school has been able to contract two additional nurses. BCPS also utilizes an isolation room at each school location for students who experience COVID-19 symptoms during the school day.

The school’s bus drivers, Hicks noted, also play a vital role in mitigation efforts by cleaning and disinfecting buses before and after loading and unloading students. The buses are also cleaned with electrostatic sprayers from time to time.

Like all area schools, Buckingham works closely with the health district to perform contact tracing when a virus case is identified in the school. BCPS also quarantines students/staff or groups of students as necessary.

Hicks expressed her gratitude to all staff, including bus drivers and custodians, in helping to keep students healthy.

“It is such an honor to work with such dedicated, committed, hard working and caring staff,” she said.

“I am very proud to stand beside our custodians,” J. B. Heslip, director of facilities at BCPS, stated Tuesday. “They have worked hard to ensure our schools are as safe as they can be during this unprecedented time. I would like to personally thank ABM Regional Manager Reginald Adams, Elementary Custodial Manager Larry Lee and Secondary Custodial Manager Aubrey Cattrell for their hard work and dedication during these trying times.”