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Carroll County child care centers work through pandemic, but with some frustration they can’t serve more

The windows outside of New Beginnings Christian Learning Center in Taneytown are painted with messages that read “It Takes a Big Heart to Shape Little Minds,” “Thank You for Your Commitment,” and “Heroes Work Here.”

New Beginnings is now an Essential Personnel Childcare Center. Lisa Patterson, the owner and director of the facility, applied for the title shortly after Gov. Larry Hogan issued his stay-at-home order in a statewide effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the pandemic arrived in Maryland.

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Karen B. Salmon, the state superintendent of schools, announced June 10 that all child care centers may reopen, per Hogan’s recent actions to, step by step, reopen Maryland from pandemic-related shutdowns. Child care centers had previously been limited to those serving children of essential workers with stricter occupancy limits, but may now permit a maximum number of staff and children set to 15 per room.

Even under that loosened restriction, though, some child care center operators and politicians in Carroll have expressed dissatisfaction.

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“You have to look out for the best interests of the children, which has always been my No. 1 priority,” Patterson said. “You know, you can do 14 children to one teacher, and when you’re looking at the financial aspect of the center, if I can bring in a few more children with just one teacher, that would help us out financially.

“How do I assure that my children in classrooms are going to be in the best possible situation with 14 children, or how do I not take the additional children so that I can financially get a little bit more so we don’t shut down?”

Legislators representing Carroll County signed a June 10 letter addressed to Salmon asking her to “increase the capacity of children in child care facilities and to lift the restrictions on capacity at summer camps.” Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, emailed a copy of the letter to the Times before the original 10-person maximum capacity limit was extended to 15.

In an email newsletter after that announcement, Krebs said, “We were very pleased that the State Superintendent of Schools increased the limits on day care capacity [June 10], which is definitely a move in the right direction, but we are still not clear what science these new limits are based on. Our parents cannot return to work without childcare for their children.”

Alex Musser, director of Carroll Child Care and Learning in Westminster, also signaled dissatisfaction with Salmon’s approach.

“If we increase it and go to our next phase and take it back, well, then we’re back to nine,” she said. “What am I going to do if I don’t have the staff to cover it?”

Musser said the facility had about 36 kids before it was forced to close March 16. They reopened June 15 with 12 children, and Musser expects close to 25 in total after the July 4th holiday weekend.

Hogan’s March order closing nonessential businesses stated that companies in areas such as lodging, emergency care, food and agriculture, and commercial facilities were deemed essential and could continue to operate as normal. Child care facilities were not recognized as such.

“We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing ... with everything that’s happened, you never know what’s going to happen next,” Musser said. “We can take the extra precautions and keep taking them, then we can limit even the kid getting a common cold or anything like that.”

New Beginnings was permitted to stay open as an EPCC, and Patterson said the center went from 103 children to 48.

Like Musser, Patterson said her staff has taken extra safety precautions to ensure the health and well-being of the children. Parents are not permitted inside the building and are required to meet a staff member at the door to drop off their kids. The kids have their temperatures taken and must wash their hands as soon as they get inside.

“My personal thought is to open us back up fully, and families can choose to not come to the center,” Patterson said. “That is their choice, but we have lots of parents going back to work that need care for their children. It’s a trickle-down effect because if parents don’t have child care and are called back into work, they lose out on employment because they can’t go back.”

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All About Kids Learning Center in Eldersburg went from a capacity of 132 children to 41, according to the center’s director and owner, Bridget Roberts. Her staff was significantly reduced as well, from 33 to about half a dozen.

Roberts said her facility also remained open during the pandemic, but only to take in children of essential workers. She and the rest of the staff took additional precautions as well, such as taking temperatures and not allowing parents in the building.

“To stop parents at the door, not letting them come through your building, is a big change,” Roberts said. “We always sanitize our toys, and we’ve been pretty used to doing that. We have been logging everything we clean just so that the state can’t come back and say anything … temperatures are all recorded and everyone signs in at a certain time.”

Patterson and other child care providers in Carroll County want it to be understood that they are essential employees, too.

“I never asked my staff what they thought, and maybe none of them want to expose themselves. Maybe they all preferred to stay home, but they didn’t. My staff stayed,” Patterson said. “They exposed themselves and their children and families every day. Through all of that, the bond that has taken place in our facility has been absolutely amazing.

“We’ve all just worked together and depended on each other so much more. I truly believe I have a center full of heroes.”

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