It was welcome news for many child care facilities in Maryland. On Thursday, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said preschools across the state can open at full capacity.
“I’m glad; we’ve been waiting for this,” said Jon Heintz, president of the Children in the Shoe child care centers in Montgomery County.
Heintz said this summer has been tough, as his two centers in Bethesda, another in Rockville and a fourth in Olney were forced to shut their doors for 12 weeks.
“It was really hard to be closed,” Heintz said.
He said while his doors were closed, some families kept paying to help the locations make it through the pandemic. Heintz said that largely helped the company avoid teacher layoffs.
Since reopening, he said the centers have been teacher-heavy; but although demand overall remains down, enrollment has been inching up much closer to the state’s capacity restrictions of 10 to 15 individuals per room.
“We need to get back up to capacity because we’re just losing money every month, and we have to see our way out,” Heintz said.
Now at full capacity, the state said day cares can have up to 20 3- and 4-year olds in a room, with two teachers. For school-aged students, 30 can be in a room with two teachers.
For Heintz, his worst-case scenario is full capacity wouldn’t return until January. He said the announcement was a pleasant surprise. The state’s move has him feeling more encouraged about finding that “way out.”
“I think things are looking better,” Heintz said.
Day cares still have strict coronavirus guidelines to follow. Among the rules, everyone gets a temperature check three times a day, and teachers and most children over 2 must wear a mask. Also, staff is currently watching children for virus symptoms.
“I really do believe that it’s a safe environment,” Heintz said.
Heintz credits his staff for rising to the challenges of learning Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in a relatively short period of time. Heintz also credited the kids, saying young children he has noticed are more likely to listen to instructions than teenagers.
He said looking ahead, the only thing he thinks would help child care centers better prevent an outbreak would be better testing.
“To really feel confident about our way forward is real, good rapid testing, which we don’t have right now, which is a problem for cold season,” Heintz said.
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