Though Maryland schools will close for two weeks attempting to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, several Harford County day care centers are electing to remain open.
Further still, owner and director of Forrest Hill Nature Preschool Lavonne Taylor said day cares and preschools are stepping up to fill vacancies with first responders’ children so they can do their jobs.
The Harford County Directors Association met Friday to talk over what child care programs would be closing, Taylor said. Out of approximately 15 represented at the meeting, two said they would close. She explained that the state said child care facilities were safer than schools because they host smaller groups.
“There was some guidance from Maryland State Department of Education that suggested as long as child care [centers] are following… the programs already put in place it should be safe for them,” Taylor said.
Those programs include disinfecting preschools and day cares, which they already do frequently, she said.
Taylor said she is trying to get accurate figures of what child care centers are closing so she can transfer displaced children of emergency service, health care and other important workers to those that are open.
"If we close, then that whole group has to find another place for their children,” she said.
The measure is only a stopgap until a more permanent solution is found, she said.
The director and part co-owner of Stonewall Daycare Center in Fallston, Nicole Haught, said the center has not received a directive from a government agency to close, so the decision was left to their discretion. The center is running normally with an eye toward hygiene — making sure railings, doorknobs, keypads and frequently touched objects receive a thorough cleaning.
The children, too, are being carefully monitored. Their health, Haught said, is the deciding factor in keeping the center open. The center follows the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s handwashing guidelines — singing the happy birthday song twice through while washing hands.
“This is a unique situation. I do not think in the 40 years we have been open we have had anything like this,” Haught said Friday.
She explained that many of the children’s parents work important jobs and need to be there through what the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic. She sees the center staying open as paying it forward to them and the kids who may be comforted by the center’s routine.
“I am very concerned about this virus, as everybody else is, but I am trying to do my part in the community,” she said. “We have a lot of parents who are first responders, and a lot of children whose parents need to be at work.”
In an emailed statement, the Learning Care Group — the Michigan-based company that runs Childtime of Bel Air — said it would remain open and monitor the situation, understanding the burden school closures can be. The company aims to maintain its day cares’ regular schedules “as long as it is safe to do so."
“The safety and well-being of our children, families and staff is our top priority,” the statement said. “We recognize that school closures strain families and communities — affecting learning, nutrition and other critical services such as healthcare. At this time we will remain open, continue to monitor the situation and cooperate with state and local officials.”
The company is following the CDC’s guidance and promoting staff and children to wash their hands frequently. They, too, are disinfecting surfaces and items found in their center. Wellness checks are done throughout the day, and children who show signs of illness are sent home until they do not show symptoms for at least one day, according to the statement.
“If a child or teacher at our school was diagnosed with COVID-19, we would close immediately and follow guidance from the state and local health departments,” the statement reads.
Though schools are shuttered, Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson said will still make arrangements to feed students in need. It is using its summer meals program as a basis for what it plans to offer during the closure, but will build off that to make sure meals reach more students. As of 5 p.m. Friday, the specifics of where the food services will be provided was not decided.
Kensington Kindercare and Kiddie Academy of Abingdon said they were open but referred questions to corporate offices, which did not return requests for comment.
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A representative from the Maryland Department of Health was unable to answer questions for this article by 5 p.m. Friday.