COVID-19 & Cleaning: How Utah’s largest district plans to sanitize for back to school
Aug 4, 2020, 10:31 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 3:16 pm
AMERICAN FORK, Utah — Both parents and teachers have said more frequent sanitizing of high-contact areas is their number one desire for the new school year.
But what exactly will that look like? For Utah’s largest school district, it will include hourly disinfection procedures and an investment in a lot of hand sanitizer and additional custodial supplies.
The Cost Of Safety
The Alpine School District received about $6 million in federal CARES Act funding, which it is using to cover the direct costs associated with COVID-19, namely personal protective equipment supplies and other requirements to ensure student health and safety.
Reopening campuses for in-person instruction amid the coronavirus could cost the district over $24 million in additional expenses for the 2020-2021 academic year, when you evaluate both direct and indirect costs of the global pandemic.
The financial projection comes from estimates from the National School Superintendent Association and the Association of School Business Operators.
The numbers are based on nearly 83,000 students, 90 school buildings, 8,800 staff members and 405 school buses.
Sanitization: The Specifics
“A lot of the stuff we’re doing is stuff that we’ve done in the past, but we’re increasing the frequency,” said Mike Browning, the Alpine School District’s director of operations. “We already know that we have some chemicals that are safe for students, safe for the community, safe for the environment that we can use to help sanitize what we’re using [and] what we’re touching.”
The goal is to set up each school for success.
The Alpine School District is working on compiling and distributing a “Personal Protective Equipment” start-up package to each school. The package includes gel hand sanitizer, spray hand sanitizer, sanitizing (not disinfecting) wipes, disposable masks, disposable gloves, soap and paper towels, face shields, thermometers and a water bottle refill station. Each elementary school will have at least one refill station.
The kits will have enough hand sanitizer for at least 20 days, the district said, and then access to a warehouse after that runs out.
The principal at each school will distribute the materials to each classroom.
The district confirmed it will have enough face shields available for all 4,000 of its teachers.
Custodial staff will be a large part of tackling sanitization on each school campus, as well.
At American Fork High School, custodians hope to wipe down doors, door handles and other high-contact areas every hour.
“Our custodial staff brought all custodians together and reviewed with them the touch-point clean that needs to take place to make sure that we’re disinfecting on a regular basis and providing clean areas,” said Shane Farnsworth, assistant superintendent over operations at the Alpine School District.
The district plans to begin the new school year on Aug. 18 using their “Return to Learn” guidelines. Under the plan, students would attend early-out day schedules Monday through Friday, with the remainder of the day made available for teachers to work with students who opted for online learning.
Before the plan, the district participated in Monday-only early release days.
The full week early release schedule will also provide custodial staff with greater opportunities for additional cleaning where needed.
“That will allow our custodial crews to come in in the afternoon and do a more thorough cleaning on a daily basis and then weekly basis as they deem necessary,” Farnsworth said.
Further, depending on the need, the district could hire additional custodial staff to meet increased demand.
For high school students, the new early release schedule means lunch will happen at the end of the school day – serving only ‘grab and go’ lunches – and in some cases, students will choose to leave campus after their final class and eat at home instead, avoiding a crowded cafeteria altogether.
For schools with earlier lunch times, the district will provide socially distant seating in cafeterias.
Alpine schools will also limit locker sharing and discourage the use of older, touch-only drinking water fountains where they are still installed. All but five of the district’s schools have refillable stations.
The district said it will continuously evaluate the need to purchase additional tools and equipment to keep campuses safe and clean.
“As new products come available specific to COVID-19 – we have a team that reviews those to make sure that if they’re any better than what we’re currently using, it’d be more efficient for us to use, more effective — then we adopt those new cleaning solutions and equipment,” Farnsworth added.
The district is currently waiting for the arrival of school bus sanitizer equipment that will clean the buses faster.
A process for teacher cleaning expectations has not been developed. However, the district said principals will likely work with their staff to determine any individual classroom cleaning needs at the end of the day and/or between class periods – including the wiping down of student and teacher desks.
There’s no denying the fact that the district’s cleaning plan won’t be successful without everyone making an effort.
“If we can get people – every one of our 83,000 students – to wash their hands, to social distance, to wear a face covering, we think we can do this,” Browning said. “All the precautions we can do – we’re going to do – but then we’re going to trust students and parents and teachers to do their job. That’s what we have to count on – everyone doing their part.”
The Alpine School District is still working to determine how they’ll handle spectator sports like football and volleyball games: whether they would go ticketless, or how they would limit the number of attendees. Alpine is working with the Utah High School Activities Association for guidance, as well as other school districts in the area, and expected to have a decision soon.
“We want to create as strong a learning environment as we can for our students, make sure that they’re safe and that not only their cognitive needs, but their social-emotional needs are taken care of,” Farnsworth said. “And to the degree possible, create a normal school experience.”
Farnsworth said the district is prepared for multiple situations.
“If conditions change, then we’ll adapt to those new conditions and do the best we can,” he said.
Each district and school in Utah will be using different cleaning products and protocols.
Iron County School District pushed back its first day of school in part because it’s still waiting for cleaning supplies to arrive. Classes will now begin for that district on Aug. 25, which is two weeks after the original start time.
KSL-TV has spoken with several parents and educators who plan to stock up on their own cleaning wipes for greater peace of mind in the event schools run out too soon.
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