The Impact of COVID-19 on CUSD Custodians

A+school+girl+wearing+a+mask+uses+hand+sanitizer+to+keep+bacteria+off+her+hands.+CUSD+has+implemented+a+whole+new+set+of+guidelines+to+help+students+and+staff+stay+safe+and+healthy+during+school+reopenings.+

Photo Taken From carlsbadusd.k12.ca.us

A school girl wearing a mask uses hand sanitizer to keep bacteria off her hands. CUSD has implemented a whole new set of guidelines to help students and staff stay safe and healthy during school reopenings.

By Isabella Bernabeo, Sage Creek High School

As coronavirus swept through the United States, the world’s “new normal” was kindled. On March 13, life as mankind knew it was changed. The strike of COVID-19 has re-constructed society and the standard lifestyle.

Students’ homes were invaded with academia while teachers’ living-rooms became virtual lecture halls. Sports have been canceled indefinitely, social gatherings are severely limited and practically non-existent, and the typical interaction between our peers consists of talking and typing into a screen. But, as people continue to quarantine, the CUSD custodians are hard at work, keeping schools safe, clean, and anticipating the students’ return.

COVID-19 has drastically changed the standard operating procedures of the custodians’ day-to-day tasks. The shift in responsibility that comes with keeping the campuses clean has brought the custodians to the forefront in the struggle to bring students back to campus. The life of a custodian has completely transformed.

With the implementation of new chemicals, there has been new, required protection gear, and with that implementation came a whole new set of standards and responsibilities. Custodians have had to retrain with these new chemicals that are on the EPA’s list for COVID-19. These chemicals have no fragrance, dye, residual effects, and are asthma safe. The chemicals must be safe for all the staff and students on campus, along with the custodians using it themselves.

The Carlsbad Unified School District offices stand empty. All management operations are held at these offices, such as payrolls, supply orders, and board meetings. Since March 13 all staff have worked from home due to Covid-19. ( Photo Taken From thecoastnews.com)

Prior to the pandemic, custodians routinely deep-cleaned high-touch areas such as student’s desks, door handles, light switches, and restrooms once a week. Presently, due to the new District Custodial Standards, custodians are required to be cleaning these high touch points multiple times a day.

“Cleaning, disinfecting, it’s the same basic process and methods, it’s just the frequency of doing that,” explained Erick Kroenke, Director of Maintenance and Operations. He went on to highlight the importance of repetition to ensure the campuses stay sanitized.

“We want to be able to do everything we can to make sure they’re healthy environments, that they’re actually cleaned and disinfected repeatedly throughout the day,” said Kroenke.

To help custodians persistently clean and disinfect throughout the day, the District has needed to add more staff. As of now, a total of 13 new employees have been hired to guarantee that all campuses are being cleaned appropriately and consistently. The increase in staff is required to effectively keep up to the rigorous cleaning standards, but also increases the potential for COVID-19 transmission. However, the District is making every effort to keep everyone safe, including staff and guests.

“We take extra precautions, we wear masks all day, gloves and we sanitize and clean every day to make sure there are no germs,” said Aviara Oaks Middle School custodian, Richard Larez.

Custodian Richard Larez sprays and cleans desks at Aviara Oaks Middle School to eliminate germs. Custodians are now required to clean and disinfect high-touch areas, such as desks, multiple times a day to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Employees’ temperatures are checked at each site and documented. If anyone does happen to report any symptoms, the District will keep the employee out of work for up to 72 hours to ensure that they are symptom-free before returning to work.

Custodians have to balance working in the new-standard coronavirus gear, such as masks and gloves, and maintaining a six-foot distance from staff and other visitors. Custodians are loving having some distant interactions with teachers as well,

“It’s kind of a delight [having the teachers back on campus],” said Adrian Escalara, a lead custodian for Buena Vista Elementary. “Usually we don’t see them all summer so once we start seeing teachers… [and] just talking with them for a little bit, it makes the day go by faster… so I enjoy it.”

While students are not on campus, Escalara feels that his typical workday has become like something out of “The Twilight Zone.”

“Usually a normal day consists of cleaning up after kids, moving things for staff, almost the whole day I had to [be]around kids so to go into a school now where there’s not one single clean up call… it’s kinda not normal.”

Despite the eeriness of students not being on campus, lead custodian for Calavera Hills Middle, Conrad Mendez believes the amount of work will considerably increase as soon as students return.

“It’s a lot of work, our workload is [going to be] amplified by three times,” said Mendez.

Yet, even with the extra workload, the custodians continue to feel a sense of pride in their work and are looking forward to the return of students.

“I am always concerned for the safety of the kids. I just want to make sure that I do my job efficiently and make sure that all the students and staff are safe,” Larez said, who further expressed his deep passion for helping students.

“I love my job, and I love what I do and it’s just nice to feel like I’m doing my part as custodian to make sure everything’s well-stocked, and prepared, and cleaned so that way kids have a safe place to come to for education.”

Kroenke also has a great amount of confidence in his staff, stating, “I have faith in the staff that we have and I know that if we train them and provide them with the materials they’re going to do the job.”

This story was originally published on The Sage on October 8, 2020.