In talking to district leaders around the country about planning their COVID-19 response while conditions and guidelines constantly change, I hear these four questions consistently. All four focus on prioritizing the safety of students, teachers, and staff despite funding concerns.
How do we control disinfection costs to help our district meet funding cuts?
I’ve seen the fiscal difficulties superintendents and school boards are facing right now, and I still cannot advise cuts in cleaning and disinfection. To follow the CDC guidance for schools regarding COVID-19, frequently touched surfaces should be routinely cleaned and disinfected. To do that effectively, resources need to be dedicated to a high standard of cleaning and disinfection.
It’s a big cultural shift; I know. I’m used to advising teams that partner with schools on issues like reducing sick days while helping reduce operating costs in custodial and maintenance. As we all work to bring students and teachers back together safely going forward, I’ve had to shift my advice to prioritizing disinfection for two reasons.
One, my colleagues recommend frequent cleaning and disinfection during the day, with supplemental broader disinfection beyond high-touch points during off-hours as a best practice in keeping with CDC guidance for schools. Two, especially given the need to be conscious of the mental health needs of both students and teachers, we advise visible and ongoing professional cleaning and disinfection during school hours, so students and teachers can see action being taken. That addresses both physical and psychological needs with recurring proof that their health and the health of their friends and families are critical priorities. For leaders looking ahead to trauma-informed care and other support needs that may arise, a clear and visible disinfection strategy can help a community build more confidence in learning environments.
How do we protect spending for any operational need when we can’t stop funding cuts?
I realize that’s not a comfortable question, given the consequences of cutting almost any other budget line. Research on the Great Recession linked that era’s budget cuts to lower student test scores, and those impacts were larger for the economically disadvantaged. We lost 120,000 teaching positions from 2008-2010, and a recent analysis predicts a 15% cut in state education funding now could lead to 300,000 teaching positions lost.
This recession is more complicated by teachers’ understandable concerns with coronavirus transmission. There are so many factors and pressures on teachers now, that supporting skilled teachers who are driving good outcomes for students is more important than ever. Interestingly enough, there’s research suggesting teachers hired during economic downturns have improved impacts on students, likely because more quality applicants consider dedicating themselves to the profession.
To help you shift spending to teacher salaries, distance learning technology, and cleaning and disinfection, or create general fund relief to meet state and local funding cuts, ask your service provider to assess facility spending beyond disinfection and propose solutions. If they can find other operating costs to reduce for your district, they may also have programs in place to help you achieve those savings. Ideally, a service provider will have more levers they can help you pull, so to speak, both by providing a comprehensive facility response to COVID-19 and by creating options that help you fund key needs.
How do I help parents in my community feel more confident about students learning together?
There are two key ways: first, cleaning and disinfection in schools needs to be clear and visible, so students and teachers can be reassured that effective action is being taken to protect them. Second, everyone, including parents and community members, need to know that recommended actions are being taken, and that requires some outreach resources.
A professional, certified program can help schools with both. For communication, you’ll be able to share information about the certified processes backed by experts. And you’ll have team members performing visibly professional cleaning and disinfection throughout your district’s learning environments every day.
What should schools be doing to disinfect shared spaces?
A school cleaning and disinfection plan should implement the latest safety, infection control, and other official guidance from the CDC, WHO, and OSHA, along with best practices advised by industrial hygiene and infection prevention experts. That includes using EPA-registered disinfectants designated for use against SARS-CoV-2. The EPA restricts that list to those products which have demonstrated effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2, or a similar coronavirus that infects humans, or a germ that’s harder to kill.
Educational leaders could try to build a program themselves, or they could turn to a certified program backed by experts. With respect for the talents and dedication of so many educators, I believe superintendents and school boards have a full plate, from distance learning to educational equity concerns. A certified program can provide educational leaders with a comprehensive program with vetted procedures. The program will have secured relationships with supply and equipment providers. It should also have an accredited training program to certify their disinfection specialists and facilitators. Certification requires more than classroom training. An accredited training program should verify, through observation, that a specialist has demonstrated the knowledge and ability to be consistently effective.
The upside of responding and planning for the unexpected
As we go forward, there may be more unexpected challenges, which is one key reason to put robust and consistent protocols in place. I’d like to end on a positive note, however. While COVID-19 response has taken center stage, a cultural shift toward more infection prevention could be a net positive, helping communities guard against other sources of sickness, today and in the future. It’s important to help communities confidently build those new ways of learning and working. An effective disinfection program is an important step in that direction.
The ABM EnhancedClean™ program is a three-step approach that delivers healthy spaces with a certified disinfection process backed by experts. To learn more, visit ABMEnhancedClean.com or call 866.624.1520 and press 3.
Gordon Buntrock is National Director of Service Delivery for Education clients at ABM. Gordon has over 40 years of experience in the development of cleaning systems, program management, and operations experience in the cleaning business. He has been recognized nationally for his expertise on cleaning processes, cleaning systems integration, supplemental infection prevention technologies, production standards development, and his ability to train and motivate management and service staff to drive productivity and efficiency. He is also recognized for innovation in the cleaning business and his expertise on interiors solutions. The ABM EnhancedClean™ program is a three-step approach that delivers healthy spaces through disinfection specialists and expert-backed processes.