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Daycare programs chart individualized course to reopening

  • Dani Alexander, lead teacher at the Ja’Duke Preschool in Turners Falls, works with Zoey Sumner, Ryan Alexander and Sadie Williams. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Children play outside on playground equipment at the Ja’Duke Preschool in Turners Falls. They do aren’t required to wear masks when they’re outside keeping their distance from each other. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2020 4:22:47 PM

Children played as they always have when Ja’Duke Preschool in Turners Falls reopened Monday, but things weren’t exactly like they’ve been in the past.

“We have a ‘new normal,’” co-owner Kimberly Williams said. “We have to follow strict state guidelines to keep our children and staff safe. Anyone 2 years old and older has to wear masks when they’re indoors. Everyone has to social distance.”

Ja’Duke, like many other licensed child care centers, preschools and private home day care programs, reopened Monday after being closed by executive order in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only approved emergency child care providers were allowed to operate until this week.

It’s unknown how many centers and private programs exist in Franklin County as the state’s Department of Early Education and Care does not keep track of those numbers, according to spokesperson Annie Lydgate. The state also doesn’t have the numbers of how many reopened this week.

The state has set minimum requirements for child care and preschool programs, and Williams said some of them present challenges, but Ja’Duke did its research and planning, and felt it could safely reopen to serve local families.

“We typically have room for more than 90 children in our four classrooms,” Williams said. “We have accepted half that number for the summer and plan to reopen at full capacity in the fall.”

Up to each program

The Department of Early Education and Care provided the necessary application process, health and safety guidance and support to help child care programs reopen, Lydgate said. The decision about if and when to reopen, though, was up to each program.

Some have decided not to open yet or at all this summer. The YMCA in Greenfield is one program that won’t resume child care until Sept. 1.

“It all came down to regulations,” said Kara Younger, the YMCA’s director of child care programs. “It was really short notice for reopening and there was too much we were going to have to figure out. We’ll be working on all of that for the fall.”

For one thing, Younger said children under care cannot be mixed in with the public, and the YMCA is also reopening to its members.

“Kids use the gym and they swim, and it just wouldn’t be safe to be mixed in with the adults as they return,” she said. “Many parents said they are still working from home or simply staying home with their children this summer anyway.”

Drop-off, pickup and making children wear masks wasn’t going to be easy, and the building is not configured for easy separation, Younger said. All of that will be resolved by fall.

“We have 34 little ones typically,” she said. “One classroom serves kids ages 2.9 to 4 years and the other serves kids ages 4 to 5. We’ll take the summer to figure it out and welcome them back in the fall, we hope. No one knows anything, for sure, with this pandemic.”

Younger said the YMCA also runs an after-school program during the school year that serves about 80 children.

Requirements

Lydgate said the Department of Early Education and Care assembled a Health and Safety Working Group with members from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Department for Children and Families, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Public Health to develop the minimum requirements for reopening and provide additional information to family child care programs and home day care programs.

Williams said Ja’Duke had to plan everything, from how it would clean — that happens throughout the day, and then professionals come in after the children have left and do a thorough cleaning — to how it would manage the drop-off and pickup of children.

“We’ve learned there’s a difference between cleaning and disinfecting,” she said. “When we disinfect, it’s much more thorough.”

All areas, materials, furniture and equipment used for child care must be properly cleaned, sanitized or disinfected, she said. Ja’Duke also has a plan in place to obtain and maintain its inventory of essential cleaning supplies.

Williams said pickups and drop-offs are staggered, and adults are not allowed into the building.

“Drop-off happens between 8 and 9 in the morning and pickup is between 3 and 4 in the afternoon,” she said. “We don’t have any after-school programs this summer.”

Williams said the preschool also had to develop plans for dealing with symptomatic children. Ja’Duke conducts a temperature check without contact, and parents or guardians are asked several questions about different symptoms and whether their child has any. A visual inspection of the child for illness is also done.

“It’s not easy, but we’re taking it step by step,” she said.

Seven infants are allowed with two adults in the infant room, while toddler rooms allow nine children with two adults. Preschool rooms each allow 10 students with two adults.

There is staggered outdoor time, physically distanced play and proper sanitization practices — children wash their hands regularly. All children age 2 and older must wear a mask if they cannot maintain a 6-foot distance from each other. All adults wear masks, and everyone picking up or dropping off must wear a mask while on the property.

Williams said while everyone is hoping for the best, there is still a lot unknown about COVID-19. If there were to be another surge, the preschool would have to decide whether to stay open, something she said the state could also decide, if there were to be a resurgence in Massachusetts.

“We just move forward,” she said, “do everything we can to make it safe and hope for the best.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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