By Steve Hubrecht
Many of the daycares in the Columbia Valley have closed due to COVID-19, with most saying they will resume operations once the pandemic is over.
The decision to close came in mid March, was made by the centres themselves (as opposed to being mandated by a provincial order) and came after representatives of some of the local daycare centres met to discuss the situation. March 18 was the day most local daycares closed operations, which was one day after the provincial government announced all kindergarten to Grade 12 classes had been suspended until further notice.
“We were talking with the other daycares in the area and all felt – for the safety of the children, their families and our staff – that we were going to all close,” Windermere Valley Child Care Society manager Pat Miller told the Pioneer. “We put our families and staff first for safety reasons.”
“I spoke with two managers of other centres in the valley and we collaboratively encouraged our board of directors that it would be a good idea to close,” said Eva Joseph Cultural Centre’s Little Badgers early learning program manager Carrie Rickards.
Mountain Ridge Academy co-owners Timm and Vassa Stein pointed to the safety and health of kids and staff and, additionally, to a lack of kids attending as reason for closing their daycare, noting that a great many parents would have opted to keep their kids home during the pandemic even if the daycare had been open.
“We tried to stay open, but it was not feasible … It was our decision to close, because of the greatly reduced attendance – many parents chose to keep their children at home – and to keep our teachers safe and healthy. Our teachers also have their families that they need to protect, and it is impossible to find other teachers in the valley if our teachers either got sick or chose to stay at home. Since our teachers are our school’s greatest asset, we need to protect them,” said Timm Stein.
He added that he understands that some parents are still working and may still be in need of daycare.
“However, we – and some of our teachers – also need to stay at home with our own children because the K-12 schools are closed. Unless the licensing bodies relax the restrictions and allow the (daycare) teachers to bring their own kids to school with them, it is not feasible for them to return because they will then need to look and pay for a safe place for their own children,” he said. “In the end, it just becomes a vicious cycle and the operation of the school could change every single day, which creates a huge administrative burden.”
Stein added that out of the 32 families that send their kids to Mountain Ridge, only one showed interest in coming back after the spring break, and that none of the other families expressed a desperate need for childcare when the Steins sent out a survey on the matter.
Rickards noted that in B.C., daycares are considered an essential service during this pandemic and are being encouraged to stay open to help support parents who work in other essential services and who have children that may need childcare.
“Some of the reasons that helped us decide (to close) were that it is impossible to social distance with young children, and if their families are working the front lines (in health care) then that is putting the other children, teachers and their families at risk,” said Rickards. “It is frustrating because most of the time early childhood educators are looked down upon as just being babysitters, but when it comes to a pandemic then we are now considered essential services.”
Mountain Ridge, Little Badgers, the Windermere Valley Child Care Society and Sonshine Children’s Centre have all indicated that they will re-open as soon as possible – as long as it is safe to do so.
Miller said re-opening may be something that happens “slowly, depends on how it all goes.”
Mountain Ridge will re-open “when the parents’ confidence and the attendance numbers increase, and when the provincial government provides confident evidence that the crisis is under control, especially in our small and vulnerable community,” said Stein. “Our teachers will also need to feel confident and comfortable before they return to work. In addition, our teachers will need to be able to send their own kids back to school at the same time.”