Thank a custodian the next time you see one, because they’re facing a slew of challenges that keep children healthy at school.
Aberdeen School District custodians Glenn Raney and Keith Reid say their job is harder now than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Noting how they exert themselves a lot, wearing a mask is tough while they do what they do.
“When you start sweating and stuff, and the school gets the heater going,” Raney said. “It’s pretty tough to wear the mask.”
Yet, the pair wears their masks.
The two custodians talked Tuesday morning, Jan. 25, about their job since the pandemic started affecting schools two years ago.
In addition to the usual duties they both have at Stevens Elementary School, and then at Miller Junior High School, where Reid works after lunchtime at Stevens, the increase in work has been challenging to say the least.
“Our job (during the pandemic) has increased in the amount of work we do,” Reid said. “That was a given. It gave us another 25 to 30% (more) workload, on top of what we were doing already. And trying to keep up, it’s hard.”
Reid also noted, outside all of the extra work, seeing the students try to interact with each other is tough to watch.
“They’re always being told you can’t do that, you can’t do this,” Reid said.
Raney said he doesn’t like having to tell the students “no” when it comes to things he knows they really want to do, and if it was before the pandemic started, they could do.
“You can’t hug your best friend, or speak to them without the mask on,” he said about the interactions between the students.
Raney said the students have to wear their mask unless they’re eating. But, when they eat in the cafeteria — usually a room full of roaring laughter and other noise — they have to socially distance. Raney pointed to the numbers at each seat where the students have to sit.
Reid gave a glimpse of some of the most difficult parts of his job in the last two years.
“It’s the continual cleaning and wiping everything down,” he said. “You’ve got 23-30 desks in each classroom, depending on what building you’re working in, and you’ve got to try to work a system to get to it all. Some nights you can’t get to it all because there are other things you’ve got to do so you can open up the next morning.”
Reid said there are a lot of “touch points,” including door handles, lockers, desks and bathrooms.
“The kitchen (is) the main priority in my aspect because you’re serving food to these kids and you don’t want to be contaminating it,” Reid said. “Then when you go to the bathroom, you want to keep that cleaned because that’s one of the dirtiest spots in the school. And then you’ve got the classrooms.”
When they’re near the boys and girls restrooms, they do have to remind at least some of the students to wash their hands.
Raney said students touch everything — lockers, walls, door handles and glass on the doors. The children also sit on the floor for certain school activities.
“You’ve got to clean everywhere,” he said. “Clean, spray, wipe, and wait for the call.”
Reid said it has been how Raney described since the pandemic started.
“You get your little breaks in between,” Reid said. “When they shut us down is when we go through and start doing a real deep clean again, on everything. And (we’re) just trying to keep up.”
Aberdeen Schools switched from in-person classes to remote learning on Monday, Jan. 10, because of student and staff absences — some were out because they contracted COVID-19 and others for other reasons. The students didn’t return to the school buildings for in-person classes until Tuesday.
“This last (move to remote learning) we didn’t really get much accomplished because of the teachers moving out of classrooms, still teaching remotely,” Raney said.
Reid added the schools have also had to change their plans with the flooding from early January, when record rainfall hit Hoquiam. Aberdeen Schools had to stop in-person learning because of the floods during that time, too.
While the brunt of what Reid and Raney do is clean, they probably do a lot more than what people think, and that was before the pandemic. They also keep the students in control during lunchtime. When they help with lunch, a lot of the work is keeping the students quiet and to keep the lunchroom orderly.
After all, there are classrooms happening between about 11 a.m. and 1:15 p.m., the times when the pair said they work to keep the cleanup in the cafeteria to a minimum.
They also help with opening milk cartons, stubborn pudding cup lids, and whatever else the students need. And, they try to encourage the students to eat all of what’s in their lunch, not just what they like. When the children are done, they get to go to recess.
If they do as they’re told, walking along the blue arrow in order to give their garbage to Raney and Reid, or throw it out, they get to recess early. Reid said he goes out to the playground after recess and picks up whatever the students left out there.
“Coats, balls, whatever,” he said. “Mostly the students bring back the balls, which is nice for me. And then I’m off over to Miller for the rest of my shift.”
In case someone gets sick, especially with COVID-19 — and they’ve been exposed to other people — Reid and Raney have protocols to follow.
“We have to close the room down, then we go down and totally clean that room,” Reid said. “Wash it, disinfect it, the whole nine yards. And then we shut the room down until they come back. No one’s allowed in those rooms.”
Reid said Room One, which is near the main office, has to be cleaned every day.
“That’s a priority over the other rooms if we have sick kids in there,” he said. “The door’s wide open, exposed to open air here and the office. They say it spreads in your droplings. If that’s the case then to me, if the child, or teacher, has those symptoms, they should take the protocols and stay home, try not to spread it.”
Another thing to which Reid and Raney must rapidly respond, is when a student gets nauseous and the green gils show.
“I would say any time you have a kid spill or vomit, that’s the toughest part,” Raney said. “Then you have to get (donned in HAZMAT) and clean everything up.”
But, Raney likes the environment in which he works.
“The environment here is definitely nice,” he said. “The work environment is pretty good.
Reid likes his job, too. He said it’s a good place to work.
Breanna Gentry, behavioral support specialist at Stevens Elementary, said Reid and Raney have taken ownership of their extended work.
“They step up when there’s a classroom that needs to be extra-cleaned because we had either an exposure, or somebody (who) was sick and were worried about it, they go in and they get it cleaned up,” she said.
Gentry said the duo is always on top of their tasks in the lunchroom.
“Between every single lunch, they’re happy to wipe down everything just to make sure the next group who comes in has a safe and healthy spot,” she said. “So, I think they’re doing a great job in that aspect.”
Jamie Stotler, principal at Stevens Elementary School, said she really appreciates the job Raney, Reid, and the rest of the janitors throughout the district, have done since the pandemic started affecting schools in March 2020.
“(They’ve) really stepped up over the last couple of years to ensure the health and safety of students and staff,” she said in an email to The Daily World. “They have had added duties and expectations to their daily job requirements.”
Stotler said Reid and Raney really heeded the call during the district’s most recent shift to remote learning. She’s glad they work for the district.
“As the principal (here), I am truly lucky to have Glenn, Keith and Bill (Rattie) working in my building,” she said, noting Rattie is the evening custodian. “I appreciate that they always go above and beyond to ensure the health and safety of all, and are always willing to go the extra mile.”