By Steve Hubrecht

Sonshine Children’s Centre daycare and preschool is back operating as per normal, following disruptions last week.

As the Pioneer reported in last week’s edition, the centre was closed on Monday, Feb. 7 and Tuesday, Feb. 8, after staff from the daycare centre protested provincial health order requirements made in January that all early childhood educators (ECEs) must wear masks. The closure on Feb. 7 came because that was the day the protest was held and the closure on Feb. 8 came because the Sonshine Children’s Centre Operations Team (SCCOT), which is the board that oversees the daycare, opted to hold discussions with the staff that day.

The centre was back open on Wednesday, Feb. 9, although one daycare staff member had resigned, and operations continued as normal for the rest of the week.

“The educators were adamant, and I think with good reason, that they didn’t want to wear masks because they feel it inhibits their ability to relate to the kids,” Lake Windermere Alliance Church pastor Josh McCallum told the Pioneer.

McCallum adding that he played a mediator and counselling role between SCCOT and the daycare staff during the closures. The daycare, and SCCOT, operate under the umbrella of the church.

“But we as a daycare don’t have the authority to ignore provincial health orders. It’s not something we can negotiate,” he said.

McCallum was quick to add “it wasn’t a thing of deep hostility between the board and the staff.”

The discussion between SCCOT and Sonshine staff on Feb. 8 led to finding common ground, said McCallum, and that common ground is that the provincial health order requirements allow daycare staff to not have their masks on at certain times, such as when trying to communicate with the kids at the centre in situations when verbal communication alone may not be sufficient.

“So we found a place where the educators believe they can function under the mandate,” said McCallum. “We as an oversight team trust our staff will be using this discretion responsibly.”

The pastor acknowledged that the closures were disruptive to families whose kids attend the daycare, and said the board, staff and parents will work to rebuild trust.

In terms of parents’ opinions on the closures, McCallum said “there are parents on all ends of the spectrum. Some want to fight the (masking) requirements. Some strongly support the order and want masks on staff at all times. And, of course, there are a lot of parents with opinions in the middle of the spectrum.  There are also a number of parents that expressed that they really just want their kids back in daycare.”

McCallum said he feels a safe, constructive atmosphere for all sides to express themselves has been established, and that the need for clearer communication between centre staff, SCCOT, and parents is apparent.

In terms of losing one staff member to resignation, McCallum said “we’re not completely short staffed as a result, but we are one step closer to potentially being short staffed. Obviously that’s something we’ll need to address, but for now, and for the coming weeks we will be able to operate our daycare at full capacity.”