Bye Bye Salad Bar
When preparing for flu season, support professionals take stock and take extra measures to ensure student health.
By John Rosales
As schools prepare for flu season, they are taking a long, hard look at hygiene and sanitation practices. Fortunately for educators, parents, and students, education support professionals (ESPs) are already taking extra precautions to help prevent the spread of germs.
While ESPs say they’re trained to always maintain the highest possible health care standards when it comes to their jobs, the H1N1 virus has forced them to make adjustments. We spoke to some support professionals about their best practices for minimizing the spread of germs in hallways, bathrooms, cafeterias, and buses.
In the Cafeteria
- Stop self-service in the cafeteria
- Lose the salad bar
- Serving utensils can become contaminated with germs
The possibility of student-to-student infection has school officials concerned, particularly around open food service areas.
“We had to stop using salad bars,” says Vicki Hughes, food service director for the McLean County Public School District in Calhoun, Kentucky. “We make sure everything is served by our cafeteria staff . . . they wear gloves.”
Dispensing with exposed vegetables and dressings at a salad bar, with its serving utensils getting passed from hand to hand, “keeps kids from transferring germs from one to the other,” she says.
Hughes, a 20-year veteran with the district who started as a cook, now supervises 24 food service workers at five schools. She says a possible flu epidemic has also caused ESPs to double-check the surfaces of tables and chairs in the minutes they have between serving different lunchtime groups.
“We have a quick serving time, so the floors are spot-cleaned between servings and the surfaces are checked,” says Hughes.
In Hallways, Classrooms, and Bathrooms
- Use disposable wipes
- Don’t use the bathroom mop in a classroom
- Rags, sponges, and brushes can help distribute viruses
At Ascarate Elementary School in El Paso, Texas, custodians go through their usual, rigorous routine of sanitizing door knobs, water faucets, vending machines, toilet flushers, lockers, and other touch points. (See the NEA Health Information Network for more guidelines.)
“We’re a little more cautious right now so no one will get sick,” says custodian Andres Sermeño.
Their added vigilance has led schools in the Ysleta Independent School District to now use disposable wipes instead of re-using old rags and sponges.
“Even though it costs a little more, we use more disposable wipes,” he says.
As health officials gauge the possible impact of the pandemic, custodians at Ascarate have also strengthened their floor-cleaning solution from one-part bleach and three-parts water to two-parts bleach.
Sermeño also uses the stronger bleach-water solution to sanitize mops, brooms, and scrub brushes that would be too costly to replace after just one round of cleaning. Before using a mop or broom, Sermeño says he’s careful not to mix those used in classrooms and the cafeteria with those assigned to bathrooms.
“We keep ’em separate,” he says.
On the Bus
- Keep separate tissue boxes on your bus
- Tell students to cover-up when they cough
- Hand sanitizer works on the road too
“I keep a box of tissues for them and a separate box for me,” says bus driver Stephen Byrd. “I keep mine in an overhead compartment.”
That way, he says, he’ll always know where his tissues are.
Byrd transports about 65 K-12 students for Manchester Community Schools in Michigan. When a student on his bus sneezes or coughs, Byrd sometimes has to remind them to cover up, just like they would in the classroom.
“I remind them to cover their mouths and noses,” says Byrd, who also carries a can of Lysol disinfectant and a bottle of hand sanitizer. “I’ll give’em a squirt of sanitizer when they ask.”
NEA HIN provides guidance for cleaning and sanitizing hard surface areas that students are likely to have frequent hand contact with. Bus seats and hand rails, keyboards and desks, for example, must be cleaned immediately when visibly soiled.
Since the outbreak of the flu, Byrd is re-thinking his approach to proper bus hygiene.
“We’ve always provided hand sanitizer,” he says of himself and fellow drivers. “But maybe I should just squirt everyone’s hands [with sanitizer] as they board the bus and not wait for them to ask.”