Child care facilities work through frustrations as health protocols cause disruptions |

Child care facilities work through frustrations as health protocols cause disruptions

Little Red Schoolhouse in Breckenridge is pictured on May 9. Board member Kelly Owens said that the child care community is working on messaging that will be sent to parents and families about being kind to child care workers.
Jason Connolly/For the Summit Daily News

FRISCO — Before child care facilities in Summit County reopened in June, there was a push and pull between health concerns and the understanding that child care is necessary to allow parents to go back to work. Child care facilities have worked to follow public health guidance to a T, but hiccups from individual quarantines to classroom closures are inevitable, causing frustrations among both parents and child care staff.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put out extensive guidance regarding health and sanitation protocols in child care settings as well as how these facilities should manage cases and outbreaks of COVID-19. Summit County Public Health has worked with centers directly to answer questions and help implement state protocols. While child care facilities have now been open for about three months, Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, said that protocol changes have been made on a regular basis, making communication difficult. 

A state document titled “Can I go to school today?” provides parents and staff with guidance for at-home symptom screening. The document breaks up potential COVID-19 symptoms into categories of low community transmission and sustained community transmission. But the document recommends keeping the child or person at home, informing the school of symptoms and reaching out to a health care provider in the case of symptoms that fall within either category. 

Burns said public health has given providers a “decision tree” to help them know when children or teachers need to be excluded from class and if the classroom needs to then be closed. 

“Some of those guidelines are more vague than we might like,” Burns said. “With young children especially, it’s hard to know if a cough is a link to an allergy, or tickle in a throat or if it’s really more serious and needs to be potentially referred to a provider for potential COVID-like symptoms.”

This gray area seems to be where frustrations kick in, as parents may need to stay home with a child who they may not feel is especially sick, but have to follow strict protocols and potentially sacrifice their own work hours or pay. Burns noted that there are inequities in the parent having to stay home as some can work remotely, but it can be much more difficult and financially burdensome for those that can’t.

Parents also have to stay home with their children unexpectedly when an entire classroom shuts down. Meanwhile, they have to continue to pay for child care while not receiving the full amount of service time they are paying for.

Classrooms will close for a number of reasons, including if a teacher is sick or must be quarantined and a replacement can’t be found, or if someone in the classroom has had close contact with a positive or presumptive positive case. To date, Burns said that there have not been any school or facilitywide closures, but that individual classroom closures have had to take place.

“A big systemic issue is the way our child care works,” Burns said. “Most of our child care programs are funded by parent tuition … even though child care provides an important public service, they’re mostly privately funded organizations. So when a classroom closes, it’s not realistic to say, “OK, the classroom is closed so parent, you don’t need to pay for tuition for these next two weeks,” because the programs still rely on that revenue to pay their staff and keep their lights on.”

Burns acknowledged how frustrating this can be for parents as child care isn’t cheap, but said that the directors or boards of directors of the nonprofits that often run child care centers have communicated to parents that full tuition will still be collected even if there has to be a closure. Burns noted that the centers cannot operate without the tuition unless they receive greater public or outside support. 

Burns said that at this time parents are more concerned about whether or not they will have access to child care due to closures and are less concerned about the possibility of their children contracting COVID-19. She said she feels parents are comfortable with the precautions staff have taken to keep children safe. 

At a Breckenridge Town Council work session on Tuesday, Aug. 25, council member Kelly Owens, who is on the board of directors for Little Red Schoolhouse in Breckenridge, said the child care community is looking to put out a message to parents and families to be kind to child care staff.

Owens said that she understands parents are frustrated, but she is disheartened that providers and other service industry professionals have received the brunt of people’s anger. 

“We’re looking at putting together a message that will go out to all of our parents that says, make sure you’re modeling the behavior you want your kids to have and please be good to those child care providers who are holding your kid … they’re doing the most important work in our community right now and that we just need to be polite and kind and courteous to them,” Owens said.

Owens proposed finding a way for the town of Breckenridge to reward hard work in the service industry at this time.

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