For students at Brien McMahon High School, eating lunch in the cafeteria is an inevitable and unavoidable aspect of their daily education. Every day, hundreds of teenagers who make up the body of our student population filter down to lunch in four “blocks”, each a half-hour long, to eat and socialize without the imposing adult supervision one deals with in class.
Naturally, with such a large daily influx of constrained and claustrophobic teenagers, each lunch wave tends to leave a large mess of discarded food, various spills, overturned trays and other substances.
Brien McMahon High School employs a team of custodians that vigorously attempt to clean the cafeteria during the limited time they have between each lunch shift.
“[We only have] about three minutes,” says head custodian Charlie Wyatt. “[When] they added the fourth block, it went from five minutes to basically between two-and-a-half, three minutes. So all we can do between lunch waves is basically run through and wipe off all the tables. We don’t have time to sweep the floors.”
What is puzzling, however, is a noticeable, long-term issue with cleanliness in the cafeteria, that clearly has not been taken care of by the custodial staff. It is not uncommon to see plastic chairs coated in gum or crumbs, uncleaned tables with unknown substances pooling on it, and perhaps most disturbing: the undersides of tables and counter-tops, which features an assortment of rotting, weeks-old food and gum.
Nauseating, isn’t it? “Yep,” admitted junior Aqui Diamandis. These concerns are not unjustified, either - ECube Labs warn that uncleaned garbage is an “ideal breeding ground for bacteria, insects and vermin” that “increase the risk of you contracting with salmonella, which causes typhoid fever, food poisoning, enteric fever, gastroenteritis, and other major illnesses.”
“The undersides of the tables are scraped every summer, as part of the summer work we do. We don’t scrape under the tables during the year, unless we have extra time during one of the breaks, like spring break, or what have you, and we notice that there is a problem. Then we take care of extra stuff like that - this is not part of the daily cleaning of the tables. However, we might want to encourage kids not to put the gum under the tables. They are defacing property in this building at an extreme level,” Wyatt discloses.
Gum on the underside of a table I frequent during my lunch block
McMahon’s custodials staff are plagued with other issues as well. “We don’t have enough custodial staff to sweep the floors,” states the head janitor. Furthermore, students have been defacing the bathrooms - “tearing the hand towels down off the wall, stuffing paper towels in the toilets, causing a flood - that’s what one of my custodians is cleaning now” - which, in the words of BMHS administrator Marie Allen, “takes away from [janitors] doing their job,” as they are forced to move away from their assigned duties in order to clean the restrooms.
Yet another problem that custodians at McMahon face is a lack of effective cleaning products. “We have a very strong disinfectant called Q.T.3, which we use to disinfect areas - when there is vomit, or spraying down the doorknobs at night. Right now, that’s our only defense, as far as diseases are concerned. The green products are terrible - I don’t like the green products... We’re not allowed to use [Bleach] in schools. Bleach is the number one cleaning agent on the planet. And it should be used in schools and hospitals, but they no longer allow it. So they give us these ‘green products’... [that] simply aren’t that good. I’m all for preserving nature, but going green inside of a building is just not a good idea.”
In the future, one can hope that BMHS’s custodial staff receives the resources necessary to do their jobs to the best of their ability. As for the unclean areas in the cafeteria? Wyatt has promised that he will see to cleaning under the countertop as soon as he can. “I’ll take care of it… it will be cleaned.”
As a final message, he pleads with students and staff to not come to school if they are sick. “Take a day off, [just] take a day off."