Day 6

'A little chaotic': Custodians navigate back to school during a pandemic

As cleaning staff, Denise Lewis and Tim Thornton are playing an important and often unheralded role in keeping students safe during the pandemic. They share their hopes and worries about how things are going to go.

'All eyes are on our group,' says Brampton custodian Tim Thornton of the challenges posed by COVID-19

Denise Lewis, left, and Tim Thornton spoke to Day 6 about what it's like to be in charge of keeping schools clean — and students safe — during COVID-19. (Submitted by Denise Lewis, Submitted by Tim Thornton)
Listen4:41

In the three decades Denise Lewis has been cleaning schools in Sydney, N.S., not much has changed about the job — until now. 

On Sept. 8, as students returned to class for the first time since COVID-19 sent the country into lockdown, Lewis donned her mask and settled in to her new daytime routine: sanitize, sweep, disinfect and repeat.

Lewis, who works for the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education, has been dealing with her share of anxieties about the return to school but says she's doing her best to stay positive. 

"As you can imagine, the first day back was a little chaotic," she told Day 6. 

"But I think that will settle down as we get into the swing of things." 

Safety protocols for students and staff vary between Canadian provinces, from staggered lunch periods to reduced class sizes and alternating schedules.

For Tim Thornton, a head custodian with the Peel District School Board in Brampton, Ont., the new procedures have meant more work hours and a heightened sense of duty.

When it comes to reopening the schools, a lot of the responsibility is put on the custodial staff," he said.

"All eyes are on our group."

Lewis and Thornton spoke to Day 6 about what it's like to be in charge of keeping schools clean — and students safe — during COVID-19.

"Things were better today than yesterday," said Lewis. "And I see that as being the new norm."


To hear more from Denise Lewis and Tim Thornton, download our podcast or click Listen above.

Written and produced by Annie Bender.

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