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Hunt Elementary School custodian Joel Veloz sanitizes a classroom after students dismissed for the day Friday.

NEWMAN - As local schools welcome students back to the classroom to resume in-person instruction after a pandemic-induced hiatus of more than seven months, the focal point for custodial crews is one of constantly sanitizing facilities.

In the Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District, classroom aesthetics - while still addressed - are relegated to a secondary priority as custodians devote their time to a daily cleaning of desks, restrooms and high-touch areas.

“A year ago, we might have cleaned desks once a week. Those desks are now cleaned and disinfected every single day. That is probably the biggest change,” said Matt Vargas, the district’s director of operations and maintenance. “In the past, spider-webbing a room or cleaning a window sill was a priority, right now the focus is on the high-touch areas and those where students and staff are sitting.”

Vargas said custodians are using Betco GE Fight Bac, a natural, citric acid-based disinfectant product which has been proven to kill the SARS virus.

Harsher cleaning products are available, he explained, but may prove irritating to some students and staff.

“We are trying to not use any chemicals with high VOCs (volatile organic compounds) because we know that we have students and staff who are sensitive to some of those smells,” Vargas said. “(The cleaning product) is really a game-changer to help disinfect safely for our students and staff.”

The product is intended for use on all surfaces, he added.

Because students are only on campus until about noon, he noted, custodial crews have additional time in the afternoon to sanitize classrooms.

On Wednesday, when no students are in class, crews also vacuum and take other deeper cleaning measures.

“It is tough to vacuum when you are trying to disinfect,” Vargas pointed out. “Wednesday is also a great day to take care of any maintenance issues that have come up.”

Restrooms are sanitized throughout the day.

Vargas said the district has not added custodial staff to meet the demands of daily sanitizing, but has reallocated its personnel resources.

“We have two district-wide custodians who are providing additional support at all of our sites. We are also bringing in subs when the regular custodian is not there to make sure that no site is without a custodian to provide the cleaning that is necessary,” he explained. “Otherwise we could not cover that ground.”

Teachers and classified staff are also provided cleaning materials.

In the event that there is a positive COVID-19 case linked to a particular classroom, Vargas said, “we would go top to bottom. That room would be completely cleaned and disinfected. We would be very aggressive in addressing that room.”

The room would then be closed off for a minimum of 72 hours when disinfected, he noted.

The same protocol would be followed in restrooms used by students from that classroom, Vargas added.

Vargas said he prefers a precise, targeted approach to classroom disinfection rather than a broader, scatter-shot method.

“I want to be prepared for every circumstance,” he concluded, “but not react to something that we don’t have.”