Staff handling locker clean-out process at Gillette high schools

GILLETTE — Cleaning out lockers is one of those things that signifies the end of the school year and the start of summer break. But instead of students doing that this year, teachers and custodians have been doing the chore.

With school buildings still closed, the Campbell County School District had to devise a way to get everything left behind returned to their rightful owners. Letting students back in the building to do it themselves was never a real option, said Mike Danilel, associate principal at Thunder Basin High School.

Instead, everything is being delivered to students by the school district’s transportation department. The delivery part of the process will be the same for both TBHS and Campbell County High School, but there were a couple of small differences in the first steps.

Custodians, all wearing personal protective equipment, spent last week cleaning out lockers at Thunder Basin and finished the work Thursday.

Some lockers were far from neat and tidy, which is typical of high schoolers who didn’t know they would not be returning to campus. Some had stacks of books left in lockers while others had leftover food ripening for two months.

“There was some stuff in there that I didn’t know what it was. It was just juicy,” TBHS night custodian Jess Toland said. “Food is the worst we have found.”

Everything salvageable from lockers was placed into bags and tagged with student names and addresses.

CCHS used the past couple of weeks to ask students to fill out Google Forms telling teachers what they may have left behind, whether it be in a classroom or their lockers. Then the teachers have been gathering up odd objects, cleaning out lockers and then bagging items in the same fashion as TBHS.

The bags with personal items from CCHS started getting delivered Monday and the process was expected to take most of the week, associate principal Jason Garman said.

Daniel said work within the school has gone smoothly, and it’s the transportation department that has been doing the heavy lifting with the facilities closed.

“Our transportation (staff) has been rock stars with this whole ordeal, organizing these zones for us. And they streamlined it amazingly well for us,” Daniel said. “It works pretty slick for us to get items back to our kids.”

Keith Chrans and his transportation staff already had an intricate mapping system in place to help the delivery of school items. That has been going on since the start of the remote learning plan.

With a system in place, adding the bags of personal items hasn’t put much strain on the department, said associate supervisor Melissa Hoppe.

Campbell County has been split into 34 areas, all with a bus or some type of vehicle delivering supplies directly to homes. Delivery takes the department about three to four hours a day, Hoppe said.

Teachers and custodians placed the bags from lockers in marked sectors at TBHS, depending on the address. Then the transportation staff gathered them for distribution.

While cleaning out locker rooms, custodians were instructed to wait for an administrator if something like a vape device or anything illegal were found. But nothing of that nature has yet been discovered.

“Just moldy food so far,” Daniel said with a laugh.

One of the last things to do at TBHS was cleaning out P.E. lockers. Most times, clearing away sweaty clothes that have been sitting in a locker for two months wouldn’t be something to look forward to.

But it actually has gone smoothly so far because of the timing of the school shut down. Daniel said that most students took their P.E. clothes home for spring break to be washed, so many lockers were empty when the pandemic caused schools to be shut down in mid-March.

But that wasn’t the case across the board, Toland said. Some of the P.E. lockers were “pretty ripe” when custodians cleaned them out.

Sage Valley Junior High is taking the same steps as Thunder Basin High School to clear out locker rooms — with custodians doing the chore, then bagging and tagging everything for the transportation department.

The process changes a little at the elementary level. With students having cubbies in their classrooms instead of lockers in hallways, teachers have been coming in at different times to clean out desks and cubbies in their rooms, Wagonwheel Elementary Principal Eric Stremcha said.

The rest of the process is the same as the junior high and high school levels and Wagonwheel already was finished getting all that was left behind back to students by Friday.

A few elementary schools have chosen to go a different route now that Gov. Mark Gordon has relaxed state health guidelines to allow gatherings of up to 25 people, Stemcha said. Next week, devices that were sent to students to do their remote learning plans will be returned and a few schools are electing to have parents pick up the bags of left-behind items then.