March 13, 2020

Guidance from NYS and NYSUT on cleaning and disinfection in schools

Source:  NYSUT Program Services

The New York State Education Department, in conjunction with the New York State Department of Health, has provided guidance (SED and DOH School (Pre K-12) Guidance) to Pre-K-12 Schools regarding how to prepare and respond to COVID-19 concerns.

This document also includes a “School Pandemic Planning Checklist.” We urge you to review it and to ensure your school has approached each topic mindfully.  

Additionally, the joint guidance has information related to cleaning and disinfection: Interim Cleaning and Disinfection Guidance for Primary and Secondary Schools for COVID-19 .

The joint guidance regarding cleaning and disinfection stresses the following:  

School administrations, in collaboration with the local department of health and union stakeholders, should immediately review, update and implement the components of your school’s emergency operation plans that address infectious disease outbreaks.

Effective strategies build on everyday school policies and practices such as routine cleaning. 

Current guidance from NYSED and the State Department of Health notes the following:

  1. Schools should continue performing routine cleaning. Specific high-risk locations warrant cleaning and disinfection at least daily.
  2. If an individual with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 was symptomatic in a school setting, cleaning and disinfection throughout the school is necessary.

In order to comply with this guidance, schools and relevant stakeholders, including NYSUT local leaders, must ensure these high-risk areas are identified and that, again, the school’s infection control plan is updated. They must also ensure that the custodial staff responsible for cleaning are trained on what to clean, what cleaning products to use and how to do it safely.

Disinfection is a two-step process. Clean first then disinfect.

To ensure efficacy, areas must first be cleaned to reduce soil and remove germs. Dirt and other materials on surfaces can reduce the effectiveness of disinfectants. In New York State, all primary and secondary schools, state agencies, and state authorities are required to use green cleaning products. For more information on the approved green cleaning products, visit The New York Green Cleaning Program.

Once an area is cleaned, whether it be a high-risk area or additional spaces if there was a confirmed COVID-19 case, it must be disinfected. The New York Green Cleaning Program does not address disinfectants.

For the list of New York State registered disinfectants based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s list, visit NYS Registered Disinfectants

While this is crucial information, as your advocate with regards to worker rights, NYSUT would like to expand on these recommendations and provide you with information to ensure that you are protected in every sense.

Union-Provided Safety Topics for Staff


  • Hazard Communication Requirements

Per the OSHA Hazard Communications Standard, your school should have a written Hazard Communication Program. This Program must be available on site, if you are a custodian or a union representative you can and should request a copy of this program from your school

In order to create this document your school must have done an inventory of all chemicals on site, including what will be used to clean and disinfect. Once identified, the program must outline how information about chemical hazards will be given to workers. Additionally, it should have information on product labels, where the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are maintained and how workers will be trained. 

The SDS include information on the necessary personal protective equipment to be provided to custodial staff, they must also be readily available at the school for review by any employee at any time. 

Always review the SDS for information on how to safely use cleaning and disinfection products. Contact your union representative and your school administration If you do not have what you need.

Note: The routine application of disinfectants to surfaces that are not high-touch or high-risk (ex. floors, bookcases, tops of filing cabinets) is unnecessary. 

Teachers and School-Related Professionals

If staff, besides trained custodial staff, need to assist with classroom cleaning, they should use a school or district provided basic cleaner. A third party certified green cleaner is preferred.

Custodial staff can make a simple all-purpose cleaner for classrooms. Mix one teaspoon of fragrance-free dish soap in a spray bottle filled with water. Spray on surface and scrub with paper towels or a microfiber cloth. Rinse and wipe dry to remove any residue.

Microfiber cleaning cloths improve cleaning. Dampened with water they are great dust removers. With soap and water, they remove most germs.

Disinfecting is the responsibility of school custodial staff. They are trained to use disinfectants in a safe and effective manner and to clean up potentially infectious materials and body fluid spills – blood, vomit, feces and urine. Contact your custodian or school nurse if students are ill and your classroom needs cleaning and disinfection.

Do not bring into the school your own disinfectant wipes or sprays such as Clorox or Lysol. Custodians are responsible for disinfection and overuse of disinfectants can trigger asthma and are associated with adverse health effects. 

Besides the dangers related to their overuse, disinfectants can give a false sense of security as well because when they are not used exactly to label instructions, they don’t work properly. Most disinfecting wipes require the surface to be cleaned first, and then remain visibly wet 4-10 minutes to be effective, requiring multiple wipes.

If teachers use disinfectants, they must be provided by the district and the district must also provide training as well as the appropriate cleaner and disinfectant.

The Washington State Department of Health has great guidance for health classrooms and products that can and should be used: Supply List for Healthy Schools


If at any time, you or a colleague, experiences an injury or illness at work that results in:

  • Death
  • Loss of consciousness, days away from work or transfer to another job
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid
  • Any work-related serious injury or illness diagnosed by a health care professional

You must ensure your school records this on an SH 900.2 Form, or the Injury and Illness Incident Report. 


  • Your school does not provide you with the Hazard Communication Program
  • When requested, you are not directed to where, on school property, you can access the Safety Data Sheets
  • You’ve been asked to clean your classroom or bus with disinfectants provided to you that you have not received training on
  • You are not provided with the required personal protective equipment, as is listed on the cleaning or disinfectant product label
  • Your school does not know what an SH 900.2 form is or you are not permitted to see a copy of your report

Consult your local union representative and contact your local Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH). PESH enforces the reference OSHA standards here in New York State.