By Jim Flieler, VP of Sales Canada for Charlotte Products Ltd

There is no doubt that “back-to-school” means something very different this school year than it has in the past century. Schools at every level, from K-12 through college, have been assessing their risks as they determine whether to open their doors to students and staff, or to continue with remote learning. Many have chosen to re-open. That means that across North America, thousands of students have begun to re-enter their school buildings after six months spent at home. As your school facility finally opens its doors, what are some of the new ways schools across the continent are marking this new kind of back to school?

Make a  Plan: Any school reopening plan will need to be a team effort. Your school’s plan should follow your federal, state and local guidelines and requirements for school reopening. For further details, including best practices and regulatory compliance, consider reaching out to your distributors and product suppliers who have deep expertise in COVID-related regulations and best practices. Some guidelines to consider when creating your plan include:

  • Routine cleaning and disinfection, with increased disinfection of high-touch surfaces, including doorknobs and light switches.
  • Closing, then disinfecting, areas where an infected person, or a person suspected of being infected, has been present.
  • Removal of hard-to-disinfect items and surfaces, including shared touch screens, area rugs and upholstered furniture.
  • More fully equipped handwashing stations with handwashing signage. Hand sanitizing stations should be available where soap and sinks are not present.

Risk Mitigation: The way your school building is cleaned and disinfected is critical to public health. However, we know that it is only one of a list of equally important factors in mitigating the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. Indoor air quality is an essential aspect of limiting the spread of COVID-19. Air filtration becomes an important mitigating factor. Social distancing, wearing face masks and paid sick leave are also key aspects of a comprehensive COVID-19 risk mitigation plan.

School for the Cleaners: It’s back to school for your students and teachers, but the custodial team at your school will need to attend some classes, too. Because everything has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic, the way your cleaners are doing their jobs has changed too. A well thought out plan is nothing if those executing it don’t know how to do the work, or why they are doing the work. Every member of a school’s custodial team should receive training in their own language on the following topics:

  • Safe handling of products and the use of PPE
  • Effective handling of equipment and products
  • How to avoid cross-contamination
  • Recognizing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Transmission-based precautions, including social distancing

In addition to extra training, cleaning personnel must be informed when there is a suspected case of COVID-19 in a school building. Unfortunately, when the pandemic first broke out, many custodians were asked to clean areas where an infected individual had been without first being notified of the infection. This led to unnecessary dangers. It is every school’s responsibility to care for each and every member of staff, including cleaning personnel. This is also why we agree with leading health agencies that it is important to close down an area where an infected individual has been for a certain amount of time before sending cleaning personnel in to clean and disinfect it.

Cleaning the Outdoors
Some schools may have never thought they’d see the day when they were spending time and resources cleaning their outdoor play equipment on a regular basis. However, this is where we are in the 2020-21 school year. When news of COVID-19 first began, many municipalities and schools closed down their playgrounds, fearing the virus would spread on the equipment. Now that schools are open, facilities have had to think about how to incorporate outdoor playgrounds into their cleaning and disinfecting procedures. 

According to the U.S. CDC, it is recommended to clean outdoor spaces regularly. For high-touch surfaces that are made of plastic and metal, routine cleaning and disinfecting is recommended. However, it is not recommended to spray disinfectant in outdoor areas that are wooden, on natural plants, mulch or on the sidewalk or asphalt. In addition, daily routines for cleaning playground accessories like balls and jump ropes should also be established. 

Communication: Communication between various groups within your school community will be essential in the time of this pandemic. That includes consistent and clear communication with building inhabitants in the form of signage, emails and social media that explains the need for social distancing, the importance of hand washing and mask wearing, as well as how frequently surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected. These communications should include answers to frequently asked questions to explain your procedures, and very clear expectations regarding possible infections and how areas will be closed and disinfected. School administration and facilities departments must be in constant contact to discuss when spaces will be unoccupied and available for cleaning staff. Now, more than ever before, an informed school community is key to public health and safety. When students and staff have information they need to learn and teach, your school is a more peaceful, healthy and safe place.

Additional Resources for Schools:

Health Canada’s Guidance

Guidelines from Healthy Green Schools and Colleges

U.S. CDC’s Guidance