A Facilities Manager’s Guide: Preventing Illness in Your School

A facilities manager’s role in preventing illness from overtaking a school is vital. Here’s how you can help keep everyone healthy.

Preventing illness from spreading throughout a school is always a challenge. School closures or frequent student absences are enormously disruptive to classrooms. And in cases where school funding is tied to attendance, student absences are costly, notes Rick Clemons, Staples Facilities Solutions National Manager for Education & Government Markets.

“If 5 to 8 percent of students in a given school year are absent because of illness, it can add up to millions of dollars in lost funding for an individual school district,” he says. In light of that, it makes much more sense to invest in a program to prevent an outbreak, rather than lose much more in attendance-related funding.

Stopping viruses requires a group effort and systematic approach. Here are Clemons’ recommendations for warding off an outbreak.

Enlist the School Community

Controlling infections is a team effort, so work with stakeholders — from the district-level superintendent to the teachers, nurse and even the Parent Teacher Association — to implement and encourage best practices. For example, the school nurse can help you launch a hand sanitizer program and scout out strategic locations throughout buildings to place dispensers. Teachers can demonstrate proper hand washing techniques to younger students, or encourage older ones to wipe down common surfaces with disinfecting wipes.

Constant communication is key here. Notify the school community of your plans for cleaning and disinfecting, and issue reminders on how individuals and classrooms can protect themselves. Ask administrators to share your messages with teachers and students.

Be sure to keep stakeholders updated on your cleaning efforts, and ask them to keep you in the loop on important factors, including student absences. You can work as a team to figure out the best steps and preventative measures to take.

Take a Thorough Approach to Cleaning

While it’s common practice to perform a visual and smell check after cleaning a classroom or restroom, this does not determine whether bacteria and viruses have truly been eliminated. Periodic objective and quantitative testing, such as ATP monitoring, can be conducted to determine if a cleaning process is effective.

Refer to the CDC guidance on reopening, the CDC considerations for schools and the ISSA Clean Standard: K-12, which was created specifically for K-12 schools with input from school and industry professionals. Along with this standard, other established tactics for proper cleaning include:

• Stock up on products: Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and sanitizing sprays are crucial for getting rid of germs. Make sure you have enough on hand to regularly clean surfaces and combat potential outbreaks. A shortage of the right supplies can quickly allow an illness to be spread.

• Launch an initiative: Communicate the clean standards and encourage teachers and students to wipe down common surfaces. Clever, fun posters can be effective at conveying the message, so consider working with the school nurse to create a program that promotes best practices and grabs attention.

• Invest in cleaning technology: Innovative cleaning tools can provide an extra level of protection. One example is an electrostatic sprayer — like the Clorox Total 360 or the Protexus Handheld Electrostatic Sprayer — in which the solution completely wraps around a surface and sanitizes it in a matter of minutes.

• Look into air quality: Although infected surfaces are a leading cause of colds and the flu, research from the University of Maryland shows that these viruses can be transmitted by breathing them in. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters or air purifiers are effective tools for removing viruses from the air. Ultraviolet light-based technology can also help.

• Ask your supplier: Your suppliers are knowledgeable about the most effective products and programs for preventing the spread of germs, so enlist their help to find the optimal solution for your school. Ask them if they have seen certain solutions or practices work in other schools they sell to.

As students begin their return to school post-pandemic, take steps to create your plan and acquire your supplies. Meet with school administrators to emphasize the importance of a community-wide approach to keeping staff and students healthy and focused on learning. And don't forget to enlist the help of staffers willing to help you create and distribute fliers and other communications to keep involvement strong all year long.