BY KARISSA MILLER
John Daniels’ work has never been more challenging — or more important.
Every day the lead custodian at Troutman Midde School cleans, sanitizes, vacuums, helps with maintenance and traffic. He also responds quickly whenever a child becomes sick in class to make sure students have a safe and healthy learning environment.
The work of the custodial staff in Iredell-Statesville Schools has taken on greater importance during the COVID-19 pandemic
Daniels has worked at Troutman Middle for 15 years. He is tasked with cleaning one of the oldest schools in the district. He is known for going beyond his job description — taking part in “fixer upper” projects, such as installing new tile in the school bathroom — and is a valued member of his school community.
“When I first came here, I saw a potential for the school to be clean and nice,” Daniels said.
With so many great people at the school, the staff, school leadership team and teachers at this school are “all just like one family,” he explained.
“When one hurts, we all hurt. So we are trying to keep it clean for the children for the staff and also for our family for when we leave and go home—and we don’t carry anything home with us,” Daniels added.
He has a checklist to follow for his daily cleaning routine, outlining the areas to focus on, what to clean and the frequency.
“I call it our Bible. We live by it,” Daniels said.
On Wednesday and Fridays, every district school has an enhanced cleaning day. All common touchpoints are disinfected multiple times daily.
These common points of contact include door handles, push bars, light switches, restroom door handles, countertops, classroom tables, desks, toilets, urinal handles, sink and faucet handle and other identified items.
Custodians also respond to any special requests for cleaning by the teachers and other staff members.
Troutman Middle Principal Bryan Paslay said that before the school year started there was a significant amount of cleaning and maintenance required to protect students.
Daniels helped with moving desks, shelves and cleaning equipment and laying out the school’s walking direction and social distancing pattern in the hallways.
Paslay said Daniels and his custodial team have done a phenomenal job. That praise and the appreciation of his school family has made him feel special.
“It makes me proud to see how clean it is. … I treat the school like it’s my house,” he said.
It is a ritual.
Every time an I-SS teacher wraps up a lesson in the classroom and sends students off to their next class, each desk is disinfected and wiped down.
Plain and Simple. No exceptions.
The mild smell of disinfectant spray goes hand in hand with that feeling of protecting each student that enters the classroom.
“In middle and high school, it’s done after every bell ring. In elementary it may be done twice a day,” explained I-SS custodial supervisor Bill Letscher.
Daily room disinfection is conducted nearly every hour by teachers and custodial staff.
According to Letscher, teachers have been provided guidelines for using disinfectants and wipes related to best practices for school sanitation and preventing the spread of viruses at their school.
The guidelines and disinfectant product used were reviewed and approved by the Iredell County Health Department.
“Our disinfectant sprays are hospital grade. It has a dwell time of 10 minutes. If it’s a little damp that’s OK, it will kill the germs,” Letscher said.
Letscher visits every school campus in the district regularly to ensure consistency and look for any areas for improvement.
“Every school is doing a phenomenal job. The thing that brings a tear to my eyes is to see the kids back in school and they are so happy. It makes you feel like your job is more important just watching the kids (reaction),” Letscher said.
I-SS leveraging CARES funds
With so many I-SS students returning to campus, having clean and sanitized schools is more critical than ever.
“We were charged with implementing Plan B (a mix of in-person and virtual learning) and are trying to do it in a safe way — the best we can,” explained Kenny Miller, I-SS assistant superintendent of facilities and planning.
This requirement means adhering to effective and rigorously enforced procedures and protocols that greatly minimize risks to a student’s health and that of their communities.
Many of the measures for keeping students safe are the same as the ones used to protect the community: face coverings, regular hand washing or hand sanitizer, limiting students to small class sizes and social distancing.
The federal government provided aid for schools through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act; school officials have been able to use these funds to purchase cleaning supplies and hire additional custodial staff without dipping into their regular operating funds.
According to Miller, I-SS has spent $335,000 for floor markings, cleaning supplies, face shields, masks, hand sanitizers and other related items. The district also bought several state-of-the-art electrostatic disinfectant sprayers.
It is another way of applying disinfectant. The equipment gives off an electric charge, Miller explained, making the dispensed solution cling to the surfaces.
If a school has a confirmed case of COVID-19, trained employees immediately perform a combination of manual disinfecting and Electrostatic Sprayer disinfection using an EPA registered product for use against a variety of viruses.
Other ways that schools are fighting the spread of COVID-19 is by increasing fresh air intake through the HVAC units, changing filters more often, encouraging students if they are sick to stay home and by continuing to educate and train staff.