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St. Louis custodians share coronavirus concerns, react to reopening plans

"We have been working throughout the pandemic and all summer long. We want to get the schools ready, but I still think it's too soon for the kids."

ST. LOUIS — Ricky Gray is currently the head custodian at Carr Lane Middle School. He's 64, and has been with the district for 32 years. It's a job he loves doing.

"The main thing that pretty much keeps me motivated is the kids. I take a lot of pride in my job, " Gray said.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic and all summer long, Gray and nearly 200 custodians with St. Louis Public Schools have remained on the go. The part-time and full-time employees have been busy sprucing up nearly 70 elementary, middle and high schools and the district's main building.

"It's been a very serious moment for me. You know trying to get the buildings sanitized and making the buildings safe and conducive for the kids. We're here every day and many of us haven't missed a day," said Gray.

According to a reopening plan released by the City of St. Louis Health Department, primary and secondary schools in the St. Louis area will reopen in the fall with new guidelines.

"I think it's gonna get worse," said custodian Debra Clark.

Clark's been a custodian in the school district for 22 years. She works at Dunbar Elementary school and worries about little ones returning to school amid the pandemic.

"We have wiped down everything in the buildings. We did the floors. We made sure the restrooms for the kids are very, very clean, and, I still think it's too soon for the kids to return to school in the fall. The kids are forever running up to you, hugging you, speaking to you and grabbing your hand. It's an elementary school and I just am concerned about their health and safety," Clark said.

"I also think it's too soon. I just don't think it's a good time for the students," Gray said.

Gray also said at times, he and other custodians have had to reach into their own pockets and by their own face masks for work.

A spokesperson for the school district tells 5 On Your Side that should not be happening.

In fact, spokesperson Meredith Pierce also said, "the school district does have enough personal protection equipment for custodial staff."

In the meantime, Clark and Gray remain committed in the face of COVID-19.

"They want the buildings to be conducive to learning, so our jobs are just as important as teachers. When they all come back, they can look forward to coming back to a classroom that's thoroughly cleaned and refreshed for a new school year, " said Gray.

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