By ERIN ROLL
Monday, June 15, marked the first time since March 28 that child care centers in New Jersey will be open to children from the general public as parents prepare to head back to work after the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the centers that decided to reopen, it came with increased safety measures required by the Department of Children and Families, including screening at check-in, limits of 10 children per classroom, and strict sanitation requirements. Centers had to be cleaned on an increased basis, with high-touch surfaces such as toys, tables, doorknobs, playground equipment and light switches sanitized multiple times a day. Staff had to wear cloth masks, and both children and staff will have their temperatures taken before they can enter the center.
Some centers have decided to wait to reopen concerned with safety measures for both staff and children.
Child care centers initially were allowed to stay open during the pandemic, after the schools were ordered to close, since families still needed child care. However, on March 28, Murphy ordered all child care centers to close on April 1 unless they could verify that they were caring only for the children of essential workers.
Some child care centers, including those that have been open on an emergency basis during the lockdown, will be opening back up to the general public on Monday. That day, the Montclair YMCA will be having a soft opening for its new Early Learning Center for children ages three months to four years.
Others, such as those who operate on a September-June schedule, or who are still determining how they can meet the requirements from the Department of Children and Families, will be waiting a while longer to open.
NEEDING MORE TIME
Officials at the child care program affiliated with First Congregational Church, Mothers’ Morning Out, had already decided prior to the governor’s announcement that it was not going to immediately reopen.
Executive director Jan Burgess said school and church officials agreed that more time was needed to reopen in order to set up measures to comply with the guidance from the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Logistics, she said, include classroom space, how to keep staff and families safe during check-in, and how to maintain social distancing.
The program follows the same schedule as the Montclair schools. In March, the staff was preparing for the possibility of a shutdown, as the school district scheduled a day of professional development for staff on virtual learning. March 12 was the last day of school.
“Before we knew it officially, we kind of saw it coming,” Burgess said.
Due to class limitation of 10 children, Burgess said finding space to accommodate the new class sizes would be difficult.
In June, the program switches from its full class schedule to summer offerings, which typically sees fewer children than during the school year.
Burgess said they are currently conducting a poll of families to see who is ready to return. If only seven out of 100 families, for example, said they are ready to come back, then it wouldn’t be worth reopening immediately. “That tells us we’re not ready to reopen yet,” she said.
A number of parents have thanked her and the staff for taking a thoughtful approach to reopening, she said.
Burgess noted that it has been a sad time for families, especially those who have had several children attend the program over the years, and for families with four-year-olds who would have been graduating.
LOOKING TOWARD FALL
Shomrei Emunah will be reopening its preschool in the fall if it is safe to do so, said school director Heather Brown.
The preschool program at St. James Church, which has been physically closed but meeting virtually since March, held its last day of virtual learning on Friday, June 12, and will be physically reopening in the fall if conditions permit, said Ria Wolff, the preschool’s director.
Wolff said that St. James has been preparing its reopening plan from the moment the DCF began sending out guidance for child care and preschools.
One challenge, she said, would be check-in at the start of the day.
“Because we’re going to have to be six feet apart and ask the children how they feel, and ask the parents how the children are feeling,” she said.
She said everyone was excited about coming back in September.
“We’re armed and we’re getting ready,” she said.
OPENING BACK UP
In Montclair, only a small number of daycares have remained open during the pandemic, such as the Neighborhood Child Care Center, whose families include essential workers — first responders, health care workers and retail staff.
Child care centers that have remained open during the lockdown have been required to take steps such as taking children’s temperature when they enter, having children enter the building one at a time, and restricting access by visitors.
The center typically sees 85 children in attendance on average, but for the duration of the lockdown has only had 24 children attend on average.
Avissa Beek-Peniston, the center’s director, said the staff has been making sure the building was set up to allow for the DCF’s regulations. The center has also been conducting screenings of students and staff for the three months of social distancing. “I’m hoping that parents will be honest if their children are not feeling well,” she said.
The three months during the pandemic had gone smoothly with no hiccups in the routine at the center. Beek-Peniston said the families who took their children out of the program were excited to return and felt no anxiety about returning.
With schools and daycares closed, parents have had to take on all child care responsibilities in addition to their work responsibilities. Even for parents who will continue to work from, the reopening offers parents a break, and their children, socialization they have been missing during the three months of closure.
Montclair YMCA’s soft opening of its new Early Learning Center, located at the Geyer Family YMCA, will be open to children from the YMCA’s current waiting list for child care.
Susanne Broullon, the YMCA’s digital communication specialist, said the Early Learning Center had been in the planning phases for a while, but the COVID-19 outbreak caused a delay in the center’s opening.
She said many families were excited about the center’s opening, especially since parents were preparing to return to work.
The center will have its official opening on July 1. YMCA staff said the center will accommodate 44 children during the COVID-19 pandemic, but will have a maximum capacity of 132 children.
Since the YMCA has been providing emergency child care for essential workers for the duration of the lockdown, Broullon said the YMCA staff was very familiar with the needed protocols from the DCF.
“This is something that for the Y, we’ve been doing, and we’ve been doing it well.”