Award Winner, Clarke County School District, Leaves No Nook Uncleaned

The way Kimberly Thomas, executive director, Plant Services & Custodial at Clarke County School District (CCSD), sees it, her custodial staff members are on the front line of health. “They see and touch and feel everything that’s going on in the schools,” she says. “Of course the custodial staff wants to make sure the school is healthy. They see the children at these schools as part of their family.”

The winner of the 2014 Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities Honorable Mention: New Program, CCSD employs a strategic plan that treats cleaning for health as a fundamental component of education. They are making decisions based on student and staff health and getting buy-in from teachers, nurses, students and administrators in the process.

Cleaning the Book Nooks

An often-overlooked culprit when it comes to indoor air quality is clutter. Dust mites and allergens can infest cluttered spaces, which may go untouched all year long. Many classrooms, especially in the elementary school setting, include book nooks in order to encourage free reading in a comfortable environment. These areas include such items as extra books, throw rugs and pillows that have been brought from home by the teacher. Traditional cleaning programs would clean around these nooks, possibly picking up a pillow to vacuum underneath. Not Thomas’s team. They have a plan to clean even the coziest book nooks. “We need to wash those pillows and make sure that rug is vacuumed, and if it’s a throw rug, it needs to be picked up and washed,” says Thomas. Her team is constantly asking: “What are we doing to make sure these students have a healthy space to learn?”

Saying No to VOCs

When it comes to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), CCSD is adamant about elimination. “There is a lot of increased respiratory illness among custodial staff, and we wanted to take out any spray that could trigger or worsen that,” recalls Thomas. Not to mention the children. “We have information that proves that products with VOCs trigger asthma,” says Thomas. Eliminating VOC-heavy aerosols and deodorizers from the cleaning program was a simple matter of finding Greens Seal-certified replacements that don’t contain VOCs. Getting the teachers to keep Lysol out of the classrooms was a bit trickier. Thomas refused to purchase Lysol for teachers and other staff members, while providing them with literature from Healthy Schools Campaign and the EPA on the dangers of products with VOCs.

To help teachers who were used to wiping down surfaces with brands they’d been trusting for decades, Thomas offered to fill empty spray bottles with her Green Seal-certified, district-approved cleaners. She also made sure to provide teachers with its MSDS. Teachers eventually came around and started changing the supply lists they sent home to parents to include empty spray bottles and microfiber cloths rather than expensive containers of cleaning wipes and smaller bottles of hand sanitizer. “Maybe it’s better for those families to send in school supplies that their children can use for their education rather than to clean,” wonders Thomas.

The annual Green Cleaning Award, presented by American School & University magazine, Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and the Green Cleaning Network, recognizes schools with innovative health-focused and environmentally minded cleaning programs. Winners are judged based on the 5 Steps to Green Cleaning in Schools.

Is your school interested in being recognized for excellence in green cleaning? Be the first to find out when the 2015 award application is released!