East custodial staff works to keep up with winter weather, coronavirus cleaning


Photo by Julia Ehlers

One of the this year’s Covid-19 precautions takes the form of the hand sanitizing stations now found in the hallways of East. Filling these stations up each night is one of the various new tasks the East custodial staff has added to their nightly list.

As the winter season rolls around with bad weather and snow storms, the East custodial department is going to have to fight to keep up with cleaning for both the weather and Covid-19 precautions.
East’s team of 18 custodians is in charge of all of the snow removal that comes with the colder months of the year, as well as keeping the hallways clean from all of the dirt and grime students and staff track into the building. But this year, some of the time they spend to keep our hallways shining will have to go in order to allow them to keep the rest of the school disinfected to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Kevin Connick, the custodial supervisor at East, explains more about why this is the case.
“Snow removal is always our top priority because we have to make it safe for everybody to get here,” Connick said. “But that’s gonna run neck and neck with keeping it sanitized because right now that [sanitizing] is the main focus of keeping everything safe [with coronavirus]. … there’s only so many hours in the day and so many people.”
In addition to their usual cleaning routine, this year the custodial staff has had even more hoops to jump through. True, they wipe everything down, and with more detail and different chemicals in hopes of stopping the spread of the virus, but they’re also the ones in charge of making sure the sanitizing stations throughout the school are full. And every night, they have to go through every single room in the school to dump out and refill all of the bottles of bleach solution that students and staff use to wipe down tables and chairs between classes. That’s over 100 different rooms, every single night.
Before the coronavirus struck, East custodians usually worked in a group on an area to get things done more effectively and efficiently, especially after big sporting events and activities were hosted at school. That’s no longer an option either.
“Now, we try to maintain our distance because if the custodial department gets sick and we all work together, that’s going to wipe out the whole department,” Connick said. And without custodians, the cleanliness of the school and the health of its students and staff are doomed.
Anyone could say all of these protocols, in addition to the more rigorous cleaning required by nature of, well, nature, is a lot to take on in any case. However, the East custodial staff is doing this understaffed.
They’ve been understaffed for a while – ideally they’d have at least 20 custodians on staff, but they’re currently at 18. This number decreased from 19 recently due to budget cuts, where the custodial department got the short end of the stick.
Now, because of Covid-19, if any of the custodians at other schools, mostly elementary and middle schools, end up in quarantine or catching the virus, East custodians have to help make up that difference.
“Elementary schools have three or four custodians, so if they have one or two that are out for a length of time because of it, then we have to send people from our school to help go help there, which makes us shorthanded,” Connick said.
They have had some increased funding from the government to help with the coronavirus, but the majority of these funds goes towards bleach, sanitizer, paper towels, and a new method of cleaning with disinfectant fogger machines. According to Mr. Connick, they’re like backpacks, and allow you to spray disinfectant on surfaces rather than wiping them all down by hand.
“We’ve got 10 of them to use throughout the whole district, that’s the problem,” he said. “So we get them about every other week and we can go through and spray down all the lockers and hallways … and then do the places where it would take several days to do it by hand.”
So far, the custodial staff has not yet had to work overtime to satisfy all of the extra requirements covid imposes upon them, but it’s certainly hard for them to keep up.
“Basically, it’s because we have half the kids here at a time. If we had all the kids here every day, I don’t think our custodial department would be able to keep up,” Connick said.
So be a little more patient with East custodians this year, and a lot more thankful. They do a lot for the East community behind the scenes, and they’re doing their absolute best to keep all of the students and staff safe.