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CPS Nutrition Services and Custodial Departments adapt to virtual learning circumstances

The RBHS cafeteria stays closed to visitors on Sep. 30. Photo courtesy of Therasia Brautigam.

Columbia Public Schools (CPS) students haven’t been in their school buildings for in-person learning since March 17 after the district-wide shutdown because of COVID-19 social distancing recommendations. CPS Custodial and Nutrition Services employees, however, have continued working for the district, though their jobs may look different from the usual. Neither department experienced layoffs.

The CPS Nutrition Services cooking staff has been working through the CPS Grab-and-Go Meal Service since March 18. The service provides meals to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. They run eight buses that make about 10 stops each to deliver food. CPS Nutrition Services Director Laina Fullum said employees have been working on the bus routes’ meal prep delivery, helping Special Education students or helping the CPS Custodial Services Department clean buildings.

“The goal of the district is to keep our employees working as much as possible because we need them upon return,” Fullum said. “[The] Nutrition Services Department usually has about 165 employees and they are not easily replaceable. They have cooking and customer service skills that not everyone possesses.”

“The goal of the district is to keep our employees working as much as possible because we need them upon return.”

Laina Fullum, CPS Nutrition Services Director

Most cafeteria workers will work in their home school’s kitchens upon the return to in-person learning, although Nutrition Services may ask employees to switch schools if there are gaps in staffing. Fullum said they tried to keep employees either in their schools, close to their schools or in a school that better met their needs if it also met the district’s needs.

Fullum also said the CPS Nutrition Services and Human Resources Departments worked closely together to find solutions for kitchen managers, cooks and cashiers. They considered factors such as job description, skill level, number of hours employees usually worked and school location to place employees in different positions.

The CPS Custodial Services Department also made adjustments for their roughly 170 full-time and part-time employees. Because high school athletics are using weight rooms and gyms and some teachers teach virtually from their schools, custodians are cleaning all three high school buildings.

CPS Custodial Services Director Mike Jones said although schools aren’t holding the volume of people they usually do, the department must still clean the buildings regularly for the staff members currently working in them.

“We still have to make sure we maintain the health of our buildings for the most touched surfaces as teachers are in there.”

Mike Jones, CPS Custodial Services Director

“Our most touched surfaces are doorknobs, drinking fountains, restrooms and common area furniture,” Jones said, “so we still have to make sure we maintain the health of our buildings for the most touched surfaces as teachers are in there.”

RBHS Custodial Supervisor Cheryl Sims runs the custodial staff, helps clean RBHS and handles setups of school sports games. She has been working in RBHS since it closed in the spring.

“The custodial staff has been doing our summer cleaning since we have been shut down due to COVID,” Sims said. “We scrub and wax all the floors and clean all the rooms that have been used during the year. We also have a few kids here and we still have sports going on, so I handle all of the setups and teardowns from them [and] clean up after.”

Custodians must also work at Pre-Kindergarten buildings such as the Rosetta Avenue Learning Center, Early Childhood Discovery Center and Park Avenue Child and Family Development Center, and several buildings where Special Education students learn.

In addition to these locations, CPS custodians are working in the University of Missouri⁠—Columbia (MU). The CPS Board of Education approved a partnership with MU at the last board meeting on Sep. 24, where CPS sent 22 staff members to the work at campus because the university was short-staffed. CPS still employs the custodial workers and can pull them back anytime they need as per the agreement. They can do so by giving MU a list of specific employees they need back on whatever day they decide.

“They’re on loan, so to speak,” Jones said. “The university is paying their salaries and benefits, so it’s saving the district quite a bit of money, so that helps [us].”

Are you thankful for our custodial and nutrition services workers? Let us know in the comments below!

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