May 11, 2009

Mexico's schools are closed again - but will be clean for the students

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The huge puddles of water in the street this morning were the giveaway that some major cleaning project - or maybe a broken waterline - was near us. The first proved to be true. The school was being scrubbed from top to bottom and then back up to the top by parents.

The state of Jalisco had originally said schools should reopen today (in the wake of H1N1, the malady-formerly-known-as-swine-flu). But later officials said the schools should remain closed one more week, just to be safe, and to give schools time to clean, everything.

And so today the parents of Arroyo Seco picked up the bottles of the all-purpose Fabuloso cleaner, powerful bleaches, mops, brooms and other implements of cleaning and then scrubbed the elementary school a hundred yards from our front gate.

Total school scrub
Scrubbing the school

Cleaning school in Arroyo Seco
Moving everything out to clean

What was particularly striking, was that this was a group of parents doing all the work - not some hired custodians on overtime. And although they were working very hard, they were also obviously enjoying each other's company and the conversations were fast and furious. It was as social as some of the fiestas yesterday for Mother's Day.

It was also hard not to think what a U.S. response to the same situation might look like. (Or does look like right now!)

Most likely, school officials would have to check with the school's insurance carrier to ensure that it was OK for parents to pick up a mop, then negotiate with several unions to allow the volunteer help. Eventually these same officials would need to file a book's worth of documents with the Environmental Protection Agency about how they would dispose of waste water, the sponges used and exactly what kind of protective gear (READ $$$$$) the parents needed.

Oh, and state and city permits. Lots of permits. Lots of fees. Lots of inspectors and inspections.

In other words, the school would not get cleaned without it costing a boodle of money, even if parent volunteers were allowed to help. (A boodle is more than a lot, but less than a gazillion...)

One thing is certain. The elementary school in Arroyo Seco looks spotless to me right now. But then, I'm not an EPA-trained inspector.

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