Plant operators play an essential role in students’ return

If you follow Eliot Elementary School Plant Operator Irma Martinez along on her new cleaning route, you’ll see her clean and disinfect the school from wall-to-wall — figuratively and literally.

As part of her new duties, Martinez is required to clean and sanitize restrooms and high touch surfaces every hour. It includes walls, door handles, light switches, faucets, cafeteria tables, and anything else young students may touch that could harbor viruses.

“I try to help the students as fast as I can,” Martinez said. “That’s why I don’t work by myself. I work with my team.”

On the first day of in-person instruction, Martinez led Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan through the Eliot hallways, carefully demonstrating the protocols she follows for sanitizing the school.

At Atherton Elementary School, Plant Operator Stella Jasso also demonstrated her work for Lathan, carefully leading the superintendent through her enhanced cleaning and disinfecting ritual.

She told Lathan how she works hard to keep the school safe with intensified cleaning efforts.

“I don’t want to get sick or anyone else to get sick,” Jasso said.

Over the summer and into the online-only first six weeks of school, crews adopted new cleaning techniques, reconfigured classrooms for physical distancing, and received training on how to use newly acquired electrostatic sprayers and foggers — powerful disinfecting tools used when a positive or presumptive positive COVID case occurs.

“It’s very important that we have all the supplies that our staff members need to do their jobs,” Lathan said. Some of those supplies include gloves and masks for staff, extra custodial crews brought on just for sanitizing, and cleaning kits and hand sanitizer stations in every classroom.

Plant operators and custodial crews have worked around the clock to create a safe environment for students to learn. When COVID-19 first began to spread and the district closed in March, they stayed behind and continued their work to keep schools clean and safe.

“You walk into the school and you see that no one is there, there are no kids. I felt a bit scared,” Martinez said. “But I stayed positive and just kept thinking, ‘What can I do so that when the students come back, everything will be OK?’”

Over at Atherton, Principal Albert Lemons said Jasso’s dedication to keeping students and staff safe has made her a favorite among Atherton staff.

“Without her, we couldn’t operate,” Atherton Principal Albert Lemons said. “She’s committed, and we all love her for it.”