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Custodians: Working to keep schools free of COVID-19 every day, one classroom at a time

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Elementary students in Bismarck started going back to school full time this week.

Even during the period of part-time distance learning, not a single student has tested positive for the coronavirus at Jeannette Myhre Elementary School.

The head custodian says he feels a great responsibility to keep it that way.

“A typical day in the life of a custodian in 2020 has definitely changed a lot,” reflected Myhre Elementary School Head Custodian Matt Baker.

It’s a non-stop, on-call job these days working to keep the school free of COVID-19.

“We all carry walkies and we’re constantly getting calls,” he said. “We jump into classrooms.  Sometimes we do classrooms five times a day. We’re wiping high traffic areas, door handles, sinks, chairs and desks.”

Sure, it’s a lot of work, he says, but keeping kids safe is worth it.

The same goes for the 130 custodians who work throughout Bismarck Public Schools, with an additional two who float from school to school when needed.

They often work early and behind the scenes.

“Some of the schools we come in at 3 in the morning, and by the time 8 comes around, the rooms are disinfected, they’re ready to go,” said BPS Custodial Supervisor Trevor Ell. “Others go from 3 to 11:30 to get their rooms done. Our goal is to make sure the kids are safe and have a place to come and learn.”

Ell says Bismarck schools have experienced pipe breaks and flooding — the “normal stuff.” You name it, they’ve cleaned and repaired it. But COVID-19 has been an entirely different monster.

“We never expected this to come,” Ell said. “The hardest part is finding supplies — sometimes we wait months.”

Sometimes short on supplies — and sometimes short on staff.

Ell says, at one time, a custodian tested positive for the coronavirus, and four others were named as close contacts, temporarily eliminating those five from the work schedule.

So, staffing can be tight — just as in any other job in this virus-dominated year.

Baker notes keeping up with COVID-19 cleaning tends to push back other routine custodial work: Weed control, belt maintenance and other projects.

But that’s OK, he says — priorities are much different.

“I don’t have free time, not so much this year,” Baker said, in a bit of understatement.

Baker says he takes pride in the fact that no student in his school has ever tested positive for COVID-19 — that alone makes it worth all the work.

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