Although school districts may have plans for limiting in-person learning this school year, day cares and preschools are able to stay open, but with stricter regulations in place.
Child care is considered an “essential business activity” in Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” reopening plan, meaning child care facilities received the OK to remain open throughout the pandemic.
Elizabeth Falls, the owner and director of Little Oaks Preschool & Childcare Center, said her preschool in Oak Harbor has been closely following guidance from the Washington State Department of Health.
This has included requiring infant and toddler teachers to tie long hair up and wear special shirts they can change if they get vomited on, Falls explained. Workers have been sanitizing the surfaces more, and deep cleans are now done every day.
A teacher did test positive for COVID back in July, but the daycare followed direction from the state Department of Health and quarantined for 14 days.
Kids are screened for symptoms of the virus every day, meaning more kids are being sent home than normal.
“It could possibly just be allergies and they have to go home,” Falls said.
Children 5 years old and up have been wearing masks, and the older kids are being taught to social distance. There are many activities that can no longer be done, such as Play-Doh and water games.
“Unfortunately all these years we’ve been teaching them to share and now we’re teaching them not to share,” Falls said.
Possibly the most inconvenient new requirement is that parents are no longer allowed in the building and must stagger outside drop-off and pick-up times.
Despite all this, enrollment has continued to boom. When the school year starts, younger elementary school students will be attending Little Oaks part of the time.
“We are full in every room,” Falls said. “We have wait lists because parents need to go back to work, and they have the distance learning to deal with now.”
For parent Christina Benjamin, childcare was hard enough to find on Whidbey, even before the threat of COVID existed.
A casino worker, Benjamin was taking her daughter to a daycare in Anacortes before Little Oaks opened toward the end of 2019.
“With them being open, it’s helped me keep a job because I have no one around to watch her,” she said. “And it’s hard to find childcare as it is.”
The Children’s Academy, also in Oak Harbor, has been following the same safety precautions. Director Jan Alger said she has noticed an increased interest in child care.
The center currently has openings in all three of its classes. There are classes for younger toddlers, toddlers and preschool-aged children.
But not every parent has been looking to enroll their children at a child care facility. Alger said she knows of two families who decided to keep their boys at home when COVID started.
This was also the case for Deidre Kennedy, whose 5-year-old daughter was attending the South Whidbey Children’s Center in Langley before the pandemic.
The child care center closed down from March to June. During that time, Kennedy and her husband decided to keep their daughter, Ava, at home.
Kennedy’s husband is at a higher risk of catching the virus, so the couple made the choice to hire a babysitter to watch their daughter while they continue to work from home.
“Why rock the boat?” Kennedy said.
She added that it has been challenging for Ava not to be able to see her friends. During this time, Kennedy said they have been focusing on improving her reading skills during this time.
Kennedy acknowledged that her family’s child care situation is not as dire as others.
“I do know on the island, especially this part, there are a lot of people struggling,” she said.
Caitlin Voss, executive director of the South Whidbey Children’s Center, said enrollment numbers remained steady, though she has noticed low class numbers in the youngest age group.
“A lot of people are keeping their babies home,” she said.
The program for school-aged kids is going to remain open for full days into the fall. Voss said the South Whidbey Children’s Center will be working closely with the South Whidbey School District.
The Whidbey Com-munity Foundation recently announced the availability of grants for licensed child care providers on the island. The money comes from the foundation’s COVID-19 Community Resilience Fund.
Approximately $25,000 in grants is available.
According to a press release, licensed child care providers on Whidbey can inquire about available funding from the Opportunity Council’s NW Center by contacting their Child Care Aware/Early Achievers Coach or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to request information about the application process.