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School Custodians: COVID's Unsung Heroes

Roger Phelps custodian Mason.jpg
Ann Thompson
Custodian Roger Phelps rides a scrubber up and down the halls of Mason Elementary School.

Many had to perform preventative COVID-19 cleaning in addition to regular summer maintenance - all without the help of additional custodial staff.

While many of us have been enjoying a relaxing summer, school custodians continued a rigorous schedule. Their shifts involved preventative COVID-19 cleaning in addition to regular summer maintenance, like waxing floors and cleaning furniture.

Oak Hills custodians are responsible for 989,000-square feet of space that includes nine schools, 12 buildings and 72 acres. They work in shifts, according to district spokeswoman Krista Ramsey.

oak hills cleaning.jpg
Oak Hills Local School District
Custodians, like this one at Oak Hills, work in shifts to keep up with all the work.

One of the challenges during the school year was they had to clean in places they normally wouldn’t. As part of the COVID-19 protocol, kids ate in their classrooms. That involved food clean-up in places other than the cafeteria. “Every day throughout the day it was continued cleaning of particularly high traffic spaces," says Ramsey. "So, things like doorknobs or bathroom faucets and light switches.”

Sandy Webb, head custodian at Mason City Schools, explained one huge summer job. “Getting to every single classroom, taking all the furniture out, cleaning the furniture, scrubbing the floor and having all the floors completely waxed throughout the entire building with a very lean crew.”

Mason, like Oak Hills, didn’t hire additional custodial staff during COVID.

“They did a job that we just called magnificent, and they did it with great heart, with great spirit," Ramsey says. "They always know they are essential, but they truly were our essential workers.”

“They just put in a lot of extra work and were glad to do it,” says Mason Spokeswoman Tracey Carson.

They kids recognize the custodians’ hard work, too. Webb is known as “Miss Sandy” to Mason elementary students. Children wondered if janitors were sick if they didn’t see the ones they knew. “We even had a couple of them come up and say, ‘Can we help? Do you want us to help you?' " Webb says.

Webb plans to keep some of the technology in place used during COVID. One thing she says really helps are the electrostatic sprayers: backpacks filled with disinfectant

Sandy Webb Mason head custodian.jpg
Ann Thompson
Mason Head Custodian Sandy Webb says getting everything done comes down to having a plan.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.