THURSTON COUNTY –– As each of the public school districts in Thurston County announce a rollout of entirely-remote learning plans for Fall 2020, local preschools are also making decisions about how best to serve their students and families in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some preschools have already enacted new rules that are in effect now.
“We have a strict policy of entering the facility with children,” said Nicole Browne, director of West Olympia KinderCare. “Children have to have their temperature taken outside the building, and we separate children into pods so they don’t intermingle with any other children.”
Browne’s center isn’t the only local preschool to institute new measures. In this new normal, schools are not only limiting the number of students allowed into the building at one time and screening for symptoms, but also tightening their belts. Actions taken by state and local agencies, as well as exerting extra efforts to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), places an extra burden on small businesses, and preschools are no exception, said one local preschool owner.
“I don’t think the governor understands what this is doing to local businesses,” said Lynnette McCarty, owner of Serendipity Children’s Center. “Fortunately for me, we’re a mature business. Our staff has been fantastic at keeping morale up through the whole thing.”
McCarty, who has run Serendipity Children’s Center for 31 years, said she’s ensured each of the staff in four buildings implement every recommendation and guideline they’ve been asked to comply with, down to having staff wear masks at work and keeping class sizes small. The measures seems to be working –– she added that out of more than 400 families her business serves, not one child has gotten sick, and staff have all remained healthy.
“The thing most frustrating is this is an unknown entity, so the constant change when making plans makes running a business very difficult,” McCarty said. “These are difficult times for everybody, especially small business owners.”
Preschool staff at other schools in the area said one of the biggest steps they’re taking to prevent the spread of the virus is to make sure students who are identified as having been exposed to someone with coronavirus are asked to stay home for a period of time before coming back to school.
“We have students do a health screening at the door and give families a questionnaire asking if they’ve been in contact with anyone or if they’ve been asked to quarantine in the household,” said Caitlin Thompson, director of Cadence Academy Preschool in Lacey. “We’re also spreading the kids out as much as possible. All the staff are wearing masks and we’re hand-washing constantly.”
These preventative measures enacted by local preschools follow the guidelines recommended by the CDC, which suggests preschools, daycares and other child care programs follow strict hand-washing policies, requiring social distancing in schools and to screen children when they arrive at school.
Children aren’t the only focus of such guidelines. The CDC recommends child care programs require employees to stay home if they start to show signs of illness and that managers institute plans for covering a staff member’s class if that employee has to stay home. Policies requiring staff to stay away from work when sick, as well as frequent cleaning of the school and requiring face masks for adults who enter the school, are all fairly ubiquitous policies among the preschools here.
“Teachers and parents wear masks inside the building and we’ve increased cleaning and sanitation in high-traffic areas,” said Crystal Hedden, assistant director of Serendipity Children’s Center in Tumwater. “We clean a lot anyways but we’re adding extra cleaning during this time.”
So far, very few, if any, preschools plan to close their doors in response to the pandemic. Some schools still continue to see the number of children enrolled go up and down, however, as families make decisions about how best to educate their children and whether or not it’s safe to send them to school.
“Our numbers are kind of fluctuating as fall gets closer,” said Hedden.
For more information about CDC recommendations and measures for preschools, daycares and other child care centers, please visit the center’s Guidance for Child Care Programs webpage.