Academy of Dover making clean sweep for health and safety

James Davis, chief custodian, and Dr. Michele Marinucci are preparing for a potential return of students to the Academy of Dover come fall. Mr. Davis has begun fogging down the building with a disinfectant misting machine at the start and end of the day while staff are in the building preparing for the year ahead in the midst of coronavirus. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

DOVER — When James Davis arrived at the Academy of Dover last year at 5:30 a.m., he usually checked up on the last custodian’s work before he started his routine. Now when the chief custodian comes into the building, he starts by fogging it down — using a machine to sanitize high-touch areas in the building.

“It’s different, but it’s something that has to be done,” Mr. Davis said. “You get used to it. You prepare for it.”

Like others across the state, the charter school in Dover doesn’t know just yet how its students will come back — whether they’ll be filling their desks or entirely remote — but they’ve begun the work of preparing for any outcome.

“Even if we don’t have our students here, we have our staff here; we still need to be doing these things,” said Dr. Michele Marinucci, head of school. “It’s all kind of wait and see, but be prepared.”

From measuring classrooms with yard sticks, to applying stars at six-foot intervals on the walls, to ordering enough Chromebooks for all their students, the school is seeking to address the different specifications the state released last week in its Returning to School guidance.

Mr. Davis’ work is one part of that. After running his own custodial business, he joined the school in 2009 after the prior custodian left. He foresees he’ll be here “until they kick me out,” he joked.

“It’s been really exciting because you know, you go in the store and you see somebody who says, ‘Hi, Mr. Davis,’ and they’re almost as tall as you and they go, ‘Don’t you remember me? I was a kindergärtner,’” he said.

In fact he just lived that experience. He and his sister, who is a second-grade teacher at the school, ran into a former student and that student’s child.

“You see them growing up and it makes you feel old,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve seen a lot of people come and a lot of people go. One thing that’s never changed is, even if we have a change in staff, the morale of the staff has never changed. It’s always been a team.”

As COVID-19 closed down schools in mid-March, Mr. Davis and Dr. Marinucci have been “putting their heads together” as they gear up for potentially welcoming students back to the building.

“My question to Mr. Davis was, ‘If you had carte blanche, what would you use to make the school as safe as possible?’” Dr. Marinucci said. “That has to be our top priority at this point, so we made carte blanche happen.”

Carte blanche was a fogging disinfection machine — a Tornado Vapor — which Mr. Davis has already begun to incorporate into his routine of cleaning and maintenance. The machine sprays a mist, which dries in around three minutes, and allows for Mr. Davis to cover more area faster.

After watching several webinars, and a demonstration of cleaning at his church, he’s ready to go.

Depending on how significant the spread of the virus is, the state’s guidance has schools cleaning frequently touched surfaces (lights, doors, benches, bathrooms, etc.) with either an EPA-approved disinfectant or diluted bleach solution between every 15 minutes to two hours, to at least twice daily.

With that in mind, he already has plans for how to use it if children are in the building. When he arrives at 5:30 a.m., he’ll fog down the building and its classrooms. When children are out of the class, he’ll come back through and fog down the desks and chairs. During lulls, he’ll disinfect the bathrooms and high-touch areas. When students head out for the day at 3:30, he’ll go through the routine again.

The school opted to purchase a second machine that’s more portable, which will be used to spray down the buses (in partnership with their contractor) and playground equipment.

“We need to do those areas. It just doesn’t make sense to not have one that can do the playground when the kids are going to want to go out and play,” Dr. Marinucci said.

The school is also purchasing air-purifying machines, as well as potentially hiring another daytime custodian to support Mr. Davis, depending on what instruction looks like. AOD also plans to have an aide assisting on the school buses, should children be transported to school.

“It’s a challenge [fiscally] but there’s certain things you have to do and you can’t put a price on someone’s health and safety,” Dr. Marinucci said. “The first conversation we were having was, when it came down to it, how can we make this building safe?”

“It really wasn’t about what it would cost to make it safe, it was just: how can we do it?” Mr. Davis added.

Typically, back to school brings forth a lot of excitement. The pandemic, though, complicates things.

“You know that everybody who comes in here, their safety is sort of on your shoulders, it gets serious and you want to make sure you do things just right. It has changed for me, ” Mr. Davis said. “…I’m keeping the school clean, safe and healthy.”

Though the charter is preparing for students’ return, they are allowing parents to opt for remote instruction as an alternative.

“We understand that there are parents, for whatever reason — it might be a grandparent being the caregiver for a child or somebody who has some sort of a compromised immune system or something like that — so we’ve put it out from the beginning that we will do the remote learning option, no matter what happens,” she said.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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