School districts return to pre-pandemic protocols
The pandemic has amplified parts of schools that previously didn’t prompt much discussion at school board meetings, such as maintenance.
Recently, districts have been reviewing facilities plans heading into the 2021-2022 school year — including a switch away from cleaning protocols established early in the pandemic.
Both Santa Barbara Unified and Lompoc Unified school districts have the same policy: Use pre-pandemic cleaning products unless a COVID-19 case is identified.
Janitorial staffs made a stark shift at the start of the pandemic, identifying cleaning products most likely to stop the spread of the mysterious virus.
Lompoc Unified purchased foggers to thoroughly disinfect the classroom, coating everything.
At the time, public health authorities hadn’t yet identified the virus as an airborne threat.
As community members stressed over rinsing off Amazon packages, school districts zeroed in on disinfection and ventilation.
Santa Barbara Unified retrained all its schools’ janitorial staffs and standardized procedures across the district’s schools. It also hired custodians from a third party to assist in the extensive cleaning.
“The main drawbacks of constant disinfecting to keep classrooms safe were the herculean effort needed to provide the necessary equipment and training and the equally enormous task of making sure our lines of communication with all stakeholders were effective and informative,” said Steve Vizzolini, SB Unfiied’s director of facilities and modernization.
CDC guidance seemed to change every week, said Samuel Blanton, interim director of maintenance and operations at Lompoc Unified.
“When COVID first happened, the CDC was saying sanitize, sanitize, sanitize,” he told the News-Press. “In the end, it came down to sanitizing every night, which is what we do on a normal night.”
He pays more attention to high-touch surfaces now but feels confident in newer guidance allowing pre-pandemic cleaning products.
Both he and Mr. Vizzolini have more aggressive products readily available if a case is detected on campus.
Classroom architecture also became important during the pandemic as districts studied classrooms’ ventilation.
Santa Barbara Unified worked with Rachel Segalman and Todd Squires, Dos Pueblos parents and chemical engineering professors at UCSB, to test how air cycles through classrooms.
The scientists demonstrated the experiment at one school campus, and custodians replicated the test throughout the district.
They learned that opening the windows and doors and running the existing HVAC system keeps the air fresh, exceeding the air-change guidelines from the CDC.
Lompoc Unified uses fans to push air through the classrooms.
All but six of the district’s rooms measured up to pandemic standards. One school contains a wing of six classrooms without windows.
Mr. Blanton is in the process of getting windows installed using COVID-19 grant funds. The district’s board approved the construction, so he expects the classrooms will be ready in a few months.
Lompoc Unified is also using grant money to construct canopies outside for outdoor classroom space. The district will be using tents as well for classes that want to learn outside.
Santa Barbara Unified was not confident it would be granted state funds for its HVAC system, as most are under 10 years old, Mr. Vizzolini said.
So administrators pinpointed another upgrade: touchless water-filling stations. They’ve installed 20 stations so far, with multiple on each campus, and will install more as needed.
Other current facilities projects for the district include a new multipurpose room, cafeteria, and locker room building at Santa Barbara Junior High. McKinley Elementary received a renovated multi-use space complete with an ADA-accessible elevator.
The district began roofing projects at Goleta Valley and La Colina junior high schools.
It is adding permanent classrooms to replace portable buildings at Adams and Monroe elementary schools.
Mr. Vizzolini sees more portable replacements “on the horizon” at Cleveland Elementary, Harding Elementary, Peabody Charter School, Goleta Valley Junior High, La Colina Junior High and San Marcos High School.
Lompoc Unified recently replaced outdoor lighting with LED fixtures and changed the sinks and toilets to water-conscious models.
It is putting the finishing touches on a 604-kilowatt solar parking structure.
Lompoc Unified starts the new school year Aug. 16, and Santa Barbara Unified begins Aug. 17.