COVID’s custodians

The article reviews how custodians’ daily lives have changed during the pandemic. More specifically, it covers the daily activities and tasks of LM’s custodial staff.


Photo courtesy of Aiko Palaypayon ’23/Staff

Dante McFadden has worked at LM for eleven years and John McHugh  has been here for three. Shirley Leahy says she is “just a sub.” What they  all have in common is the arduous task of keeping LM clean and its community members safe. LM’s custodians have always worked hard to maintain  the school, often taking on long hours and dealing with the messes that 1500  teenagers, along with faculty and staff, leave behind. However, due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the stakes are higher this year. The custodians’  focus has shifted from the discarded trays and milk bottles of unruly Lunch &  Learners to the painstaking process of wiping down every surface imaginable,  from the lunch tables to the desks to the doorknobs throughout the building.  

Lunch and Learn may seem like a small part of the school day, but its  absence this year has left a dilemma for custodians. While before, McHugh  notes, students could “spread all throughout the hallways,” this year they  are “condensed into [the gym] and the cafeteria.” The new schedule leaves  the custodial staff only ten minutes between lunches to wipe down surfaces and clean up trash. This might be manageable, but throw in the students  who leave class early, and those who sit in the cafeteria for study halls, and it  becomes a tricky situation. McHugh also mentions that the challenges are not  limited to the staff present during the day. The night staff are responsible for a  “more intense deep cleaning and disinfection” than they ever have been before. 

McFadden acknowledged the unique challenges that school custodians  face this year, but made clear his motivations to do a good job, saying, “I’m  here for students, to make sure they feel safe.” He mentioned another reason  he follows safety protocols so closely. “I have a family too,” he said, “so I don’t  want to bring anything home.” To that end, he feels that the school administration and the operations staff have collaborated to make the school safe for  everyone. “The custodial staff has all been on board with everything,” he says.  Speaking to the support of the administration, McHugh adds, “everything we’ve  needed, they’ve gotten us.” From masks and gloves to spray bottles and rags,  they feel that the administration has enabled them to do their jobs effectively. 

Leahy can often be seen during the lunch periods assiduously wiping down  tables, chairs, and desks. She makes sure to pay attention to detail, disinfecting  “everything anybody touches.” For Leahy, the difference between the year of the  pandemic and a normal school year is the increased vigilance that is constantly required. She says, “we have to be very diligent.” However, she notes that not every  aspect of school this year has made her job more difficult. The reduced number of  students throughout the building results in fewer distractions and less debris left  behind to clean up. This simple fact has allowed Leahy and the rest of the custodial staff to focus more on properly disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces.

Despite the many obstacles that LM’s custodial staff have encountered during  the COVID-19 pandemic, from ever-changing schedules to increased responsibilities to the risk of getting sick themselves, they have managed to maintain a positive mindset. McFadden says, “I enjoy what I do. I want to make you all [students  and faculty] happy and your family happy.” Another interesting side effect of the  pandemic has been a newfound sense of appreciation for the custodians. McFadden notes that the school administration sent them appreciative “thank you” cards,  something “you don’t hear that much, but now you hear more, because of what’s  going on.” Perhaps after the pandemic, there will be a heightened level of respect for the people who keep LM healthy and clean. As McFadden says, they  treat the school community “like family.” Maybe it is time to return the favor.


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