Custodians in spotlight as school year eases in

Custodian Earnest Bass stands in the storage room filled with cleaning supplies at the McCormack School in Dorchester.

Schools welcoming back students this fall have a lot of deep cleaning on their to-do list right now. Over the last few weeks, the custodians in Boston have been busy posting signage about mask and social distancing rules, installing a lot more hand sanitizer and soap dispensers, and finalizing new plans for cleaning schedules, especially in high touch areas.

“We’re going to try to prop the doors open this year just so no one will be touching them,” said Earnest Bass, the daytime custodian at the John W. McCormack Middle School in Dorchester. “Handles, lockers, doors, glass, those are all the areas that just get touched. Just walking by for no reason, [kids] just put their hand out and they touch them.”

Boston is beginning the school year remotely on Sept. 21, but once students return to the buildings this fall, custodians are expected to clean all bathrooms and high touch areas every two to three hours, according to new protocols based on federal and state recommendations.

“We will be adding additional staff in all of our schools to do the increased cleaning,” explained P.J. Preskenis, assistant director for facilities and building services.

Preskenis and Bass said they’re excited to see the students again. Under the current plan, most kids in the McCormack Middle School’s general population will be phased back to an in-person learning model in early November. Students with the highest needs across the district will be phased into a hybrid learning model beginning in October.

“As a custodian, we take great pride in our job. Great, great pride,” said Bass. “We’re all going to have to do a little extra. Anything we have to do to ensure the safety of everyone entering our buildings, we’re very much glad to do that.”

In what would typically be the first week of the new school year, the custodial supply room at the middle school is fully stocked right now. He called the room a “lifeline” as the new cleaning schedules go into effect this fall.

“Tissue paper towels, soap, disinfectant, these are all the things that we’re going to need to assure these kids that they can go to the bathroom safely,” he said. “So that their parents won’t have to worry about them leaving the house in the morning and possibly using a bathroom on themselves because they’re scared to go into the bathroom.”

In addition to cleaning, Boston school maintenance staff will be distributing 6,000 sheets of plexiglass to teachers to create barriers between desks and classroom spaces. Main office spaces will also be outfitted with vinyl curtains.

This story was published by WBUR 90.9 on Sept. 11. The Reporter and WBUR share content through a media partnership.

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