I admit I am a concerned parent with regard to the amount of germs my children are exposed to at school. To find out how true or not true my concerns are, I consulted an expert. Peter Sheldon is the VP of Operations and Development for a very progressive company called Coverall Health-Based Cleaning Systems, a company that develops cleaning plans to reduce health risks in commercial environments.

When thinking about the school system, it’s actually quite simple to see how the risk of germs impacting illnesses can be greater here - when you have kids in a closed environment like that, the risk to transmit illness increases substantially. Kids are spending more time at school than they really are at home. According to Peter, “the CDC states that kids are getting about eight colds a year and missing as many as 189 million school days across the United States due to illnesses.” The risk factors are pretty high. And while parents typically take precautionary measures like flu shots and other preventative care, studies show that schools are simply not focusing on reducing risk through effective surface hygiene as well as educating students on their own personal hygiene. Those are factors that really contribute to the spread of illness at school. And you continue to see evidence of that in the media with schools shutting down due to outbreaks. A lot of money gets spent on disinfecting the schools after the fact rather than preventative hygienic cleaning programs that can help reduce some of those risks.

Most moms would immediately think the restroom will rank as the number one most germy place at school… and they’re right, but there’s more. There are a number of surfaces in school that can represent points of transmission. When you think about some specific surfaces - we consider the restroom as the epicenter of cross contamination, because a lot of the germs generate in the restroom and are transferred out. The good thing is that in most schools, the restrooms are getting cleaned on a nightly basis. However, in a restroom, kids that are coming in and out may not be washing their hands effectively - toilets themselves are probably one of the cleanest areas of the bathroom. But there are other things like water fountains which are notorious for spreading germs. They aren't getting cleaned effectively - a lot of hand contact and mouth contact is happening. Then you have other areas like pencil sharpeners where all the kids are putting their hands. In most schools today, there are computer keyboards and mice - and those are key points of transmission. Desktops are probably one of the worst and one of the least cleaned environments in a school system. Peter adds, “There was a recent study done that went into the classrooms and cleaned the desktops, and just by cleaning the desktops, they were able to reduce the absenteeism by 50%.”

For the older kids, probably the dirtiest area ever found in the school system is in the athletic department - the wrestling mats. They're not being cleaned effectively, and that's why you see every season, a number of those athletes coming down with staff infections (MRSA), ringworm, and all different types of illnesses. Either people don't understand or they don't have the means. But, it's a real issue. Kids have died.

It’s hard to understand how effective hygiene is such an issue in the schools. Peter explains, “What we continue to see in the education industry is continuing cost reduction measures are in place and usually one of the first things to go is custodial staff or what the custodial staff is able to do. They're emptying the pencil sharpeners, pulling the trash, and probably cleaning the floors in the bathroom... but there's not much else being done to help reduce the risks on these critical control points in most of the schools we've seen.”

With budget cuts, it seems to be up to the teachers to control the situation. How feasible is it for us to expect teachers to continue to take care of reducing the risks on these critical control points? Most of the time teachers don't have the means. Teachers are either taking the money out of their pockets to provide the preventative measures, or asking the parents to contribute.

As parents, we can help reduce risk. Number one is to educate your child on proper hygiene. People put their hands to their face several times a day. Adults put their hands to their face at least 16 times each hour. Hand to face contact is an opportunity to ingest germs gathered from surfaces. Anything we can do to educate our kids on proper hand hygiene, not putting your hands to your face, using hand sanitizer, and effectively cleaning your surrounding area - are all going to help reduce risk.

Peter suggests, “Parents can band together and go to the administration and demand effective hygienic cleaning in their facility. They can really have an impact on schools to really take some measures to reduce the risks associated.” Finally, we have what's called presenteeism - keeping kids home when they're sick and letting them recover and not coming and spreading germs is definitely something that can be done to reduce the risks. 

About the author:

Lisa LaGrou is the founder of OaklandCountyMoms.com. She and her team work to present quality content to their readers. Lisa likes to provide information and options for families about a myriad of topics without preaching or condoning. If she experiences something, she want to share it. If she doesn't know about something, she tries to find information to share. She's delighted when people contact her with suggestions about content and resources. For more information on how to become a member of Oakland County Moms click HERE