Effect of COVID-19 on Conestoga’s frontline employees

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By Hiba Samdani, Photography Editor From deep cleaning the building to making lunches for families upon request, school employees have been busy despite the school closure. Similar to teachers and students, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers have had to acclimate to a completely different work environment. As Conestoga begins hybrid learning, the school support...

By Hiba Samdani, Photography Editor

From deep cleaning the building to making lunches for families upon request, school employees have been busy despite the school closure. Similar to teachers and students, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers have had to acclimate to a completely different work environment. As Conestoga begins hybrid learning, the school support staff becomes the building’s frontline employees to ensure that students can learn in a safe environment. 

When schools closed in the spring, the school custodians played a crucial role in supporting the community. Not only did they return to clean the building, but they also performed other maintenance jobs. These included regular checks on the school’s boilers and examining the buildings for any leaks during the storms in the summer. In addition, they patrolled the school grounds and painted the athletic fields.

With students and teachers now in the building, the custodians are working to ensure that the student body remains safe from COVID-19. They frequently wipe down high-touch areas such as doorknobs, handrails and sink handles, as well as practice social distancing and adhere to all safety guidelines. In June, they received a 90-minute training course detailing how to sanitize the school, including a refresher on the most effective ways to clean.

 “When (COVID-19) affects your work, you want the people who are in charge of cleaning those areas to have the knowledge in the background, and any questions that they may have, answered,” said Andrew Dougherty, head of custodians. 

Just like the custodians, the cafeteria staff is essential to providing a socially distant and safe lunch to the students. They deliver lunches to the students in their individual classrooms. According to David Preston, the T/E School District’s Food Service Supervisor, students are required to order lunch in the morning to ensure that the staff has enough time to prepare their meals. In the cafeteria, workers wear shields, masks and gloves, and there are frequent reminders to practice social distancing in the kitchen. These include posters and tape measures along the floor that are six feet apart.

“All staff have been provided (with) both mask and shields and we have always practiced frequent hand washing and glove use,” Preston said. “I’m sure some have concerns – those that are more concerned can play a positive role to remind others to maintain distance and follow safety protocols.”

Although the custodians and cafeteria workers were able to work despite schools remaining closed, bus drivers did not share the same experience. The school’s bus drivers are not employed by the T/E School District, but instead by different companies, one of them being On the Go Kids. During the closure, some drivers were paid a base wage until the end of the school year, while others were furloughed. According to Philip Micken, Director of Operations at On the Go Kids, the district agreed to pay partial compensation in the spring, and they are working to reach an agreement for the 2020-2021 school year. Bus Driver Maureen Mack was one of the furloughed bus drivers, but feels lucky that her husband was still able to work full-time.

“In the beginning it was frightening because it hit and everything was so abrupt. Everything had just seemed to stop. Luckily for us, we were not financially impacted, although I know a lot of drivers were,” Mack said.

While drivers transport students, they are required to follow safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Before and after each run, the drivers must wipe down the surfaces to disinfect the bus. In addition, On the Go Kids uses a spray mechanism to clean the bus. With these precautions in place, Mack feels safe and ready to come back and continue to work.

“I’m not afraid. On the Go Kids provided us with all the cleaning instruments and education we need,” Mack said. “I love driving. I absolutely love it. I feel good because some of the kids we drive are so challenged and we are able to provide a nice, safe, happy environment for them on the way to school.”

In spite of the challenges faced with COVID-19, all of Conestoga’s employees are trying to make the best out of the situation they are in. 

“I think most of them feel a good sense of being back in the building,” said Assistant Principal Patrick Boyle, who also helps oversee the custodians. “I think, like teachers, like administrators, we like the idea of being around people and about students too. That’s what we got. That’s what we’re here for.”

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