OKLAHOMA CITY – Educators, school districts and students are struggling to find cleaning supplies as in-person classes prepare to resume later this month, the state’s largest teacher’s union said.
Katherine Bishop, vice president of Oklahoma Education Association, said teachers have been issued two tubes of Clorox wipes and told to make them last the entire school year.
Educators also have been told they can’t accept standard disinfecting wipe donations because districts are only allowing a certain type to be used during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
Many districts, meanwhile, are struggling to find supply chains that can provide them with the cleaning products and sanitizer necessary to eliminate COVID-19, Bishop said.
“Cleaning supplies are a huge issue right now,” she said. “It is the cleaning supplies that districts need help with in securing those supply chains.”
Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt committed $10 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to purchase necessary personal protective equipment – like face masks and disposable gloves – to help schools safely reopen. Those funds were not designated for cleaning supplies.
“Our office has not received a request from (the State Department of Education) or school districts to address supply chain difficulties,” said Baylee Lakey, a spokeswoman for Stitt.
She said $145 million in federal coronavirus funds was awarded directly to school districts to cover a number of COVID-19 related expenses, including the purchase of cleaning supplies.
“As schools begin to reopen and welcome students back to the classroom, the governor encourages districts to use these funds to procure cleaning supplies and other materials needed to operate safely and effectively,” she said.
Carrie Burkhart, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education, said the agency hasn’t received “many, if any, concerns from districts on this issue.”
Christy Watson, a spokeswoman for the State School Boards Association, said when districts recently completed a back-to school survey, a lot reported they already had purchased cleaning supplies.
She said many districts ordered early or contract with janitorial companies.
“We haven’t heard from any that are having that particular issue,” she said.
State Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, a former educator, said cleaning supplies are among the top seven things needed in order for districts to reopen and resume in-person instruction safely.
Districts and teachers are finding those supplies hard to procure, she said.
She said some districts are shifting education online, but still requiring hundreds of teachers to report to their respective school buildings each day. That means districts still will need to obtain enough disinfecting supplies to keep educators safe, she said.
“We have teachers reaching out to us that that’s a continuing worry,” she said. “Right now, we have districts competing with other districts for access to these supplies, and someone has to lose out. That’s not acceptable.”
Provenzano said it’s possible some districts are trying to acquire supplies, but haven’t communicated that to their teachers.
She said some educators are using their own money and resources to try to procure the supplies necessary to keep their classrooms clean.
Stitt needs to allocate additional federal coronavirus aid to help districts purchase appropriate medical equipment and cleaning supplies so that schools can reopen safely, she said.
“I think it’s step one,” Provenzano said. “And so we kind of need to keep coaxing that along. I think he’ll get there.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.