MiniBury: How will your daily operations change?
Linda January: [Before the pandemic] we usually had 45 kids a day in four different classrooms. When we reopen we’ll have three classrooms and a max of 26 children a day. Our capacity is going way down. And that is in order to maintain small groups and feel like it’s mangeable as far as all the extra cleaning that we [are required by state guidelines] to do. And we’re in a really funky old building, so we need enough space for children to spread out appropriately.
We’ve reduced our hours (8 a.m.-4 p.m.), and all teachers will work the same shift, so everyone’s coming in and leaving at the same time, reducing the amount of people in and out every day.
Teachers will share extra cleaning duties, and we have a cleaner who comes in every night to do deep cleaning. We’re designating one person to do food prep.
MiniBury: I imagine some families have elected not to come back in June.
Linda: Yes, we have a handful of families who are not ready to come back, and they said maybe in July. And we have a good number of families who don’t even want to think about [coming back] until the fall.
There are so many unknown factors. It’s really concerning for many families that kids birth to 5 are the first going back, that there’s still so much unknown about COVID-19. The added health guidelines that we have to follow now feels like too much to bear for some families.
MiniBury: Tell us more about those guidelines.
Linda: All teachers have to wear masks. But we’re also encouraging our teachers to be outside as much as possible. When you’re outside going for a walk, masks don’t have to be worn, but you have to have it within reach.
For children under two, it’s not advised that they wear masks ever. Children over two: it’s recommended but not required. If a family chooses to have their kid wear a mask, we’re going to help them do that. We will do our best, but we will not be enforcing masks on children.
MiniBury: Do you feel safe about reopening?
Linda: It changes all the time. Honestly I feel confident in our ability to maintain the health regulations and to provide a very safe and clean environment. I feel very confident in our teachers ability to do that.
I’m conflicted around if this is the right choice and if the state should open us or not. I think that decision is really being driven by an economic decision and not necessarily what’s best for children — not just their health and safety but also their social and emotional well-being. And that is really difficult for me.
But also, when it comes down to it, we are a business. And we want to ensure that this business, which has been a part of the community for 36 years, continues to be a part of the community.
MiniBury: You’re also a mom. How have you found work/kid balance during this time?
Linda: My husband has been laid off, which has kind of been a blessing and a curse. It’s allowed me to continue doing what I need to do without an added childcare expense. But it’s also been stressful figuring out budgeting and navigating the system has been a nightmare.
[My daughter] Evelyn hasn’t been able to do the things that she really enjoys doing — she loves going to TJ Maxx, and she loves going to Shaws (I don’t know why). We’ve been spending a lot of time in nature. But she misses her friends tremendously and we’re missing a schedule tremendously. On that part of it, I feel like she needs to be back at Otter Creek. But at the same time, if my husband continues to be unemployed, she may not be there every day.
MiniBury: How will you approach social distancing with the kids in your care?
Linda: We’re going to encourage it the best we can. We’re going to break kids up into spaces where there are four or less kids. We’re not going to encourage hugging or the rough-and-tumble play that sometimes happens with older kids.
With infants, the kids are going to crawl on each other. And we’re going to do the best we can to change clothes and clean skin and encourage them to sit next to each other and not on top of each tother. But the reality is, children birth to 5 are incapable of social distancing. A toddler or infant isn’t really going to understand.
And they need that [physical] nourishment from their teachers, as well. We’re still going to provide hugs and sit together and read stories, and rock them to sleep and hold them when we give them bottles and all those things that kids need. Their social-emotional development is so important right now. Their lives have been turned upside down, and if we don’t provide that safe, nurturing environment, I feel we’re doing more harm than good.