The last few weeks before classes start are always intensely busy for teachers and administrators at schools around the diocese, but this year the preparations look a little different.
Cleaning supplies and bottles of hand sanitizer are competing with books, computers, pens and pencils as the most in-demand items for teachers, and good old-fashioned elbow grease is just as in demand as skills in setting up an eye-catching bulletin board. Schools are having to be cleaned and disinfected top to bottom to prepare for the return of students in the midst of the novel coronavirus.
“I feel like I’m concentrating more on cleaning and safety most times than I am on academics,” said Paulette Walker, principal at Divine Redeemer School in Hanahan.
“I’m fortunate I have my assistant principal who can focus on the academic plans, because obviously safety is something we also need to worry about,” she continued. “This is definitely not something I ever thought about dealing with when I was studying for my education degree!”
Walker said her school has hired a professional cleaning service for the first time ever to handle the more complicated disinfecting required in the days of coronavirus. In the past, parents volunteered their services to keep the school clean. Other tasks have included replacing water fountains with water-bottle refilling stations, placing stickers on the floors to mark proper social distancing, and installing hand-sanitizing stations in every classroom and at every entrance point.
At St. Joseph School in Columbia, prep for the new school year was made a little easier by the fact that all of the classrooms have been completely redone, from carpeting and windows to paint, as part of a large, school renovation project that was planned before the pandemic hit.
“We have completely new surfaces throughout the school building, so that was one factor that has made it easier for us because everything is new and hasn’t been touched by any students or teachers before,” said principal Donavan Yarnall.
Yarnall said his staff has met with the school’s cleaning service and worked out a very detailed schedule that will be implemented after classes begin on Aug. 24. A task force made up of faculty, staff, parents and others also devised cleaning protocols for teachers and students to follow throughout the day.
“The kids will be helping out at different levels depending on grade level,” Yarnall said. “At the fifth and sixth grade level, for instance, they change classrooms more often so each student will be wiping down desks so that the next class will have a clean surface when they come in.”
He said the school already has a large supply of hand sanitizer and disinfectant on hand, and has also purchased face shields for each student to wear along with masks while they are at their desks.
At St. Peter School in Columbia, cleaning and preparation was in full swing throughout the first week of August. Workers hauled classroom furniture outside for detailed cleaning and disinfecting, floors were cleaned and waxed, and hand sanitizing stations were set up in hallways and classrooms.
At Charleston Catholic School in Charleston, a cleaning company will use a disinfecting fogger around the school before teachers initially return, again before classes begin, and then will continue treatments monthly, according to principal Fred McKay. Plans are in place for the maintenance staff to clean door handles, handrails and other places that people frequently touch at least once each day. And, like everywhere else, he said hand sanitizer and disinfectant will be present in every classroom. Some of the items are thanks to the generosity of Firefly Distillery, which donated hand sanitizer. The distillery used the equipment at their facility to begin producing the liquid after the pandemic hit.
McKay said that along with cleaning, part of their preparation includes decreasing the chance of spreading COVID-19 by minimizing student movement during the day. The school is devising a plan where, when possible, teachers will rotate to different classrooms as needed instead of students changing rooms, a protocol that will be especially useful for middle school students who sometimes see five different teachers a day.
“We’re working on getting the teachers set up with the technology to be able to do this,” McKay said. “They’ll bring lesson plans with them on a laptop or iPad and have a longer time in between classes to get set up. Teaching classes in a slightly different way, along with physical preparation of the facility, is one more way to keep everyone safe.”