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The keys to South’s safety

By Amy Susnea

School reopening has been a bit of a hot topic, one that comes, again and again, back to the safety of students and teachers. But the school community is more than just students and teachers, as important as they are. Staff members of all departments had a hand on the proverbial ball that is school reopening. The school’s custodial staff, headed by Mr. Peter Rapp, was the backbone of these changes.

With the sudden and devastating arrival of COVID-19 in New York, the custodial staff took on a new responsibility on top of their already essential work keeping South running. Preparations began in early July, with staff members from every constituency from superintendent to security guard weighing in on the discussions, which took place over Zoom. At the core of these meetings was one simple idea: keeping students safe. And that relied on the custodial staff. 

Preparations for the ongoing pandemic didn’t start and end with Zoom meetings. The district was able to secure highly in-demand supplies by ordering them early. “The district was very forward thinking and ahead of the curve in the way they handled COVID. We were able to find everything quickly, which I find just amazing,” said Assistant Principal Mr. John Duggan. Without these supplies, South High could not have reopened. But even tools themselves are meaningless if there is no one to use them—that is where the custodial staff comes in.

Over the summer, the custodial staff had to work with ongoing construction and the challenges they already faced complying with New York State’s safety guidelines. “You know, this is my thirty-first year at this job, and this summer was the most challenging one yet,” Mr. Rapp said. “We had to move and remove furniture to promote social distancing,” 

A heavy tropical storm further complicated the matter. It caused property damage, including stray tree branches and other wreckage that had to be dealt with. “My team had to move forty foot containers to place all the debris in,” Mr. Rapp said.

The work the custodial staff did and continues to do, just behind the scenes, certainly seems Herculean. The custodial staff was in charge of installing MERV-13 filtration devices, filters that catch ninety percent of air particles as small as three micrometers, and spraying Bioprotect, a water based antimicrobial spray, every thirty days. Bioprotect works by trapping and killing bacteria, various fungi, and other small particles, such as viruses. In addition to all of that, the night crew wipes every surface every day. 

“Keeping students safe is our number one priority,” said Mr. Rapp. And indeed, their hard work seems to be paying off. Even as COVID cases rise statewide, only a very small number of teachers have  gotten ill, and few students have contracted the virus. Over a quarter into the school year, and with a student population of over 1,000, it is almost miraculous that South High hasn’t become overtaken by infection. 

There is no fairy godmother, however, no magic spell. There is only an extremely dedicated team of people keeping this school running, and every person within its halls safe. The custodial staff truly are the first and last line of defense between South and this disease that has claimed many lives.

“I’ve got a great team of guys that really care,” said Mr. Rapp. “I can’t thank them enough for what they do everyday.”

The Key Players—South Middle and South High’s custodial team, with Mr. Rapp (center left), the head custodian.    Photo courtesy of Mr. Rapp

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