Cleaning initiative comes under question

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REGION 16 — Derek Muharem has introduced a number of new initiatives in the brief time he’s been principal at Long River Middle School. A new color scheme on the walls and an effort to align with Woodland Regional High School to ensure middle school students are ready when they move on are just two examples of the steps Muharem has taken in his first few months as principal.

There was one particularly initiative, though, that dominated the discussion last week among the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

Since the first day of school, students have been taking cleaning up after lunch a step further by wiping down the tables and sweeping up around the tables when they are done eating. It’s a practice that Muharem brought with him from Bethel Middle School, where he worked as principal before being hired this summer to lead Long River.

The practice was put on hold for a couple of weeks after board members raised questions and a few parents expressed concerns to officials.

During the board’s Nov. 2 meeting, board member Christine Arnold said she’s heard concerns from parents about children being exposed to germs by cleaning up after other students, and that the practice could take away from the time students have to go outside after lunch. Arnold added she had her own concerns about the cleaning solution being used and whether students were picking up other students’ lunch trays.

Muharem said every student throws away their own lunch trays and the cleaning solution is a “green” solution that is comparable to a sanitizer. He explained that each student is only responsible to help clean up, whether wiping down the table they ate at or sweeping, one day a week. He add it takes about 30 seconds.

“That’s not an issue at all,” said Muharem about students missing time to go outside.

Muharem added the faculty spray the paper towels with the solution and gloves are available for students, if they want to use them.

The practice drew support from several board members.

Board member Nazih Noujaim, who grew up in Lebanon, said when he was going to school as a child students cleaned their classrooms every Saturday.

“It gave us great pride in what we did as kids growing up and it also built better comradery,” Noujaim said.

A handful of parents who addressed the board last week voiced their support for the practice, as well. They felt it helps teach responsibility and respect for cafeteria workers.

Carl Cicchetti, a Prospect resident, said the practice helps students learn the importance of cleaning up after themselves, which he asks his children to do at home.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to be doing that at school,” he said.

The board took no formal action on the issue, but came to a consensus to allow the practice to continue.

In a subsequent phone interview, Muharem said the practice resumed the day after the meeting.

“I think it fosters a sense of pride and respect, and teaches responsibility,” Muharem said.