Mess and grime are the ordinary lot of school custodians.
They are also used to the germs left behind. Seasonal influenza, colds and pink eye—not to mention boogers and gum stuck to the bottom of chairs— also are part of their work.
Now these essential workers also have to deal with COVID-19, a bug that, like many viruses, can survive for “several hours to days” on certain surfaces, according to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
Bill Samborski, custodial manager for the Janesville School District, said his custodians are taking every precaution and are following social distancing rules.
They also are adjusting and readjusting to circumstances that are constantly changing. For instance, they don’t know if or when the schools will re-open, and they must keep track of staff, such as teachers, who come into the schools occasionally, and food service workers, who come in every day of the week. It’s the custodians’ jobs to be on the front line of sanitizing all used surfaces.
“We’re usually flexible, but now, we have to be very, very flexible,” Samborski said.
Here’s the challenge: The district has 59 full-time people and 27 part-time people who clean 2.25 million square feet of space each week and attend to a variety of other duties such as snow removal near the school entrances, delivering supplies and conducting security checks during openings and closings of the buildings.
Now, their routine includes regular sanitizing of furniture, door and cabinet knobs, handles, surfaces, athletic equipment and facilities, eating areas, commons and offices, lockers, benches and ledges everywhere.
During summer, custodians do their usual cleaning during summer school along with deep cleaning that includes stripping and re-waxing floors; cleaning carpets, furniture and shelves, and cleaning bathrooms from floor to ceiling. Desks in classrooms get moved into hallways, and a team cleans each room completely.
Along with the cleaning and sanitizing of all areas that are used, crews have started on their summer work—which can’t be done as usual.
Instead, it is being done in bits and pieces so school facilities will be prepared for any possible contingency.
The state’s safer-at-home order could be extended through May ... or not. When it is lifted at some point, will children come back to school and work during summer? Summer school could take place ... or not. Or it could take place later in the summer.
“We also don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Samborski said. “There are so many permutations.”
When you manage a family of 12 people, some aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic can seem humorous.
During the recent rush on toilet paper, Kim Milligan of Janesville said a neighbor gave her a 12-pack, saying, “Now you have one roll for each member of your family.”
When Gov. Tony Evers limited gatherings to 10 people, Kim joked with her family that two of them would have to move outside.
With 10 children ages 2 to 19 living at home, Kim said her everyday life in many ways prepared her to handle social distancing, including safer-at-home strategies Evers put in place until April 24.
The Milligan children are home-schooled. Kim’s high school sweetheart and husband of 20 years, Mark, works from home, tuning pianos and fixing musical instruments for private customers and school districts. Kim manages them all and describes herself as well-organized and thrifty.
The family owns a 15-person van to transport people and supplies.
The last few weeks haven’t been easy. But while her kids miss social activities and friends, Kim said she feels hopeful about positive activity in her community.
“People are home and have more time to focus on what really matters,” she said.
Kim said her family members often ride bikes through their neighborhood. They wave to friends from a distance and leave supplies on the doorstep of a neighbor who is self-isolating.
Neighbors making trips to the store call Kim to see if her family needs supplies. Kim said she finds reassurance in those offers.
The couple always wanted a large family, Kim said.
“My mom was number seven of 12 kids. I grew up with lots of family around,” she said.
In high school, she said, “We both had this ideal of what life would be like—full of family play. We weren’t thinking about the laundry and making meals.”
Mark and Kim attended separate colleges for a year. Then Hogan, described by Kim as “our honeymoon baby,” was born.
Today, the family includes Hogan, 19; Owen, 17; Leannora, 15; Nikao, 14; Abel, 12; Shiloh, 11; Geldan, 9; Willy, 7; Ian, 4, and Bennett, 2. They all live in a 2,200-square-foot, four-bedroom house.
Kim said she became interested in home-schooling early on. She developed curriculum using materials she collected online and from friends, catalogs and the library.
Integrating school and home life helped Kim teach life skills along with academics. The children learned to cook and cooperate through a buddy system. Older kids help younger ones with everything from brushing their teeth to chores, Kim said.
While schoolwork is done in various places, Kim does most of her teaching in the dining room, where bookshelves offer each child an individualized space.
The kids can study in quiet places in the basement or in their rooms, which also are shared spaces. The two girls share a bedroom, and the seven younger boys occupy another, which is organized with bunk beds. The oldest, a high school graduate, has his own room.
Efficiency is key for Kim. The family does at least two loads of laundry each day, and Kim is a frugal shopper.
“We order a pig or a cow for the freezer, and we buy in bulk from area co-ops,” she said. “I buy 50-pound bags of oats, and we make granola and oatmeal. I buy big bags of rice and beans.”
Driving children to various lessons and activities also can be challenging. Under COVID-19 restrictions, outside lessons have ended, and the kids who have jobs have put those on hold.
Kim said she has seen more of her neighbors than usual, but always from a distance. Less face-to-face time with neighbors and friends has been hard.
Along with social distancing, the family must practice good hygiene, she said.
“We have a lot of bathroom discussions. We have two bathrooms, so we are always talking about being considerate and keeping the bathroom clean.
“We encourage washing hands more, and we do more daily cleaning. Under normal conditions, if we are sick, we step it up a notch. It’s really almost impossible to stop something at our house from spreading,” she said.
“When we get a cold, it hits everybody. We have tried to isolate people, but we don’t have an extra spot, so we disinfect things, and we take supplements and probiotics.”
Perhaps their biggest challenge these days is Mark’s job.
“He has a nonessential job,” Kim said. “It depends on how long this thing lasts, but right now he can’t go into people’s homes, so financially, things might get tighter. I tell the kids, you can’t waste food. Use less toilet paper.”
Kim recently had a miscarriage, an experience that reinforced how precious life is.
“God’s faithfulness gives me hope,” she said. “I am grateful about life and seeing the good in things, looking for that silver lining.
“It is hard to learn how to serve people when you are not seeing them and seeing their needs. We have to find ways to be creative,” she said.
“I need to be mindful, proactive and intentional in everyday activities, but not fearful. I want my kids to not be fearful. So far, they just miss their friends.”
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