By Emily Drooby and Erin DeGregorio
WINDSOR TERRACE — In a few weeks, a majority of the 66 Catholic schools and academies in Brooklyn and Queens plan to physically reopen under Plan A (100% in-person instruction), with the flexibility to adopt Plan B (hybrid instruction) or Plan C (100% distance learning through the new St. Thomas Aquinas Distance Learning Catholic Program) quickly if COVID-19 cases arise.
“Our principals, teachers, boards, and administrators have been hard at work to ensure all the health and safety protocols will be met at all our Catholic academies and parish schools,” said Brooklyn Diocese Superintendent of Schools Thomas Chadzutko. “We are prepared and excited for a full reopening in September.”
The schools in Plans A and B will undergo enhanced cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing protocols so educators and students can safely return on the first day of school.
“This may be slightly different school-by-school given the building footprint and student population,” Chadzutko added. “Some schools will need to use a hybrid model if they cannot meet the social distancing standards.”
On Aug. 18, a four-man team from cleaning company CS Care Group sanitized Salve Regina Catholic Academy, East New York, including the cafeteria, gymnasium, classrooms, and main offices. In its preliminary sweep, the crew wiped down the most-touched surfaces, such as handrails, doorknobs, light switches, and desktops. Afterward, they used a hydro-fogger machine with EPA-approved chemicals to sanitize the air. Completely sanitizing both of SRCA’s buildings took between four and five hours, which is the norm according to the company. Individuals can return to a recently sanitized space an hour after spraying is completed.
Moving forward, SRCA’s maintenance staff will maintain cleaning, as confirmed by the principal, Michelle Donato. Daytime maintenance staff members will spray and disinfect bathrooms, door handles, handrails, light switches, and other common spaces every two hours.
The academy has spent more than $1,000 from its budget on health and safety equipment, including two backpack misters, filled with a disinfectant, a hydrofogger, and five buckets of disinfecting wipes (4,000 wipes in total). These items will be used to disinfect such areas, as needed, throughout the day and at night when the building has been vacated.
Donato also purchased tall hand sanitizing dispensers with foot pedals that avoid the need for hand contact. This, she said, must be used by all who enter the building once their temperatures are checked.
“My main concerns, right now, are to make sure that the building is ready for the students and that we are able to show them that this is the new way for now,” Donato said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get back to our normal routine, but this is going to become our new normal. And we’re going to handle it with the grace that we always had.”
In Canarsie, Our Lady of Trust Catholic Academy will undergo mandatory cleaning on Aug. 20. The incoming eighth grade — which has 30 students and is the academy’s largest class — will be taught in the gymnasium rather than the classrooms.
“It took a while to think everything through,” said OLTCA Principal Muriel Wilkinson, who noted that a maximum of only 14 desks can fit in each classroom under social distancing guidelines.
From the school’s budget, Wilkinson has also ordered hand sanitizer dispensers, partitions for the main office, plexiglass shields for teachers’ desks, and other necessary personal protective equipment. Teachers in the younger grades, for example, will wear face coverings that have a see-through window in front of the mouths, so that students can see what is being said.
“It’ll be especially [helpful] for phonics, and so that the students can also see the teachers smiling underneath,” Wilkinson explained. “For the younger ones, that might be a little more comforting.”
St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Academy in Windsor Terrace will be sanitized from top to bottom on Aug. 31. According to Stephanie Germann, the academy’s principal, a professional cleaning team will be using an electrostatic sprayer to sanitize the air and all surfaces. This, she said, is incredibly important because the building has high ceilings that normally can’t be sanitized.
An additional challenge SJTWCA faces with its high ceilings is the dust that collects atop the school’s hanging, rectangular light fixtures.
“Any breeze of wind or air conditioning can blow that down onto the students and teachers,” Germann added. “Cleaning all that dust is the next big step.”
To mitigate the spread of germs, automatic hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed outside each classroom’s two doorways and bathrooms will be retrofitted with automated paper towel dispensers and automated antibacterial soap dispensers.
“Every summer, we focus on the building and give it a little extra tender, love, and care to welcome kids back into the building,” Germann said. “But I think, in light of COVID-19, it’s extra important to make sure all our surfaces have been sanitized. The kids haven’t been in the building and the building’s been clean twice over. We’re being extra cautious.”
Reopening plans for each school can be found on the individual school’s website. Additionally, parent meetings will take place this week, via ZOOM, to review and discuss the re-opening plans.