By Susan Scapparone and Rick Clemons
Never before has infection control and hygiene been such a high priority in K-12 public schools as it is today. School district leaders have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to ensure staff, faculty, and students return to a safe and healthy environment. On March 11, 2021 President Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act sending aid to millions of Americans struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, K-12 public schools will receive nearly $130 billion to support elementary and secondary schools in reopening and addressing the effects of the pandemic. School facility managers should meet with K-12 school administrators to make the case that a portion of these funds be allocated to upgrade cleaning programs to ensure a safe and healthy environment for staff and students.
With the large amount of federal dollars now being made available to local school districts and the public’s heightened awareness of the importance of infection control, there is no better time for public school facility managers to make the case for safety upgrades.
Here are five tips every K-12 facility manager should consider before approaching school administrators with their wish lists:
- Hygiene is key for any school reopening. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), schools that have strictly followed hygiene and cleaning guidelines had the same or lower infection risk than their community overall, even when the community’s infection rate was high. If your school has not invested in new hand sanitizer stations, touchless fixtures, towel and soap dispensers for your restrooms, now is the time to discuss these purchases with school administrators to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and other infections.
- Assess your cleaning supplies and disinfecting solutions. Prepare a detailed list asking for cleaning equipment and cleaning solutions you’ve always wanted but never received due to budget constraints. Perhaps a new dilution control system is on your list where chemicals are automatically dispensed at precise ratios or customizable cleaning carts. Check out the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) N List to see what disinfection and cleaning solutions are most effective against COVID-19. Even if you have consistently been monitoring the list, check again as recommendations are always changing based on new information.
- Educate school officials on cleaning and disinfecting and the need for both. Every facility manager is well aware that an integral part of reopening schools is to properly clean and disinfect. But how educated are school officials on the differences? Be sure they understand that cleaning with detergent and water, physically removes dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects but it does not disinfect germs. Disinfecting works by using specific chemistries to kill germs on environmental surfaces. By killing germs on surfaces after cleaning, it will lower the risk of spreading any kind of infection. Disinfecting solutions come in many varieties, such as general, hospital grade etc. Make sure you are well-stocked to deal with the upcoming school year.
- Invest in your custodial staff. Training and professional development to minimize the spread of infectious diseases will be critical. Stimulus money can help your custodial staff be better prepared for reopening by providing the funding necessary to train additional staff on the latest key learnings related to infection prevention. If you have an outside facilities manager partner, also speak with them about training webinars they may offer with new insights to educate you and your custodial staff.
- Coordinate your efforts with local health officials. Before presenting your plan, know what strategies and metrics local health officials are recommending to your school board and properly align your requests. A seamless strategy will make it easier for you to receive funding for cleaning equipment, products, and training.
After a year of anxiously awaiting the reopening of K-12 public schools, facility managers can now have a strong say in creating a healthy and safe school environment by securing the necessary funds to fight infection control and hygiene issues. With the assistance of the Federal government and public sentiment across the nation at an all-time high to reopen schools, there should be enough funds to go around for school districts, educators and facility managers to work creatively together and identify the proper cleaning protocols for an enthusiastic and safe welcome back to classroom learning.
Scapparone has been in product management at Staples for 10 years and is director, product management, for the Facilities Category. She leads a cross-functional team responsible for launching new chemical solutions and cleaning tools and played a key role introducing the Coastwide Professional™ J-Series line of paper and soap dispensers and refills for the modern restroom.
Clemons has more than 25 years of experience customizing efficient supply chain solutions for Staples education customers. Since 2011 he has managed the education market for Staples facilities organization. Recently Rick received his Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) certification training to help organizations prepare, respond, and recover from biological threats.