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Child care centers waiting on state as summer looms

SALISBURY — Summer is around the corner, and child care centers are looking to the state on what will be allowed during a busy season.

Lelonna Richardson, St. John’s Child Development Center’s program coordinator, said she does not feel left behind because the center has only experienced brief shutdowns when the pandemic began and two weeks around Christmas. Richardson said she thinks centers should be allowed to get back to things they used to do.

Richardson said when the center heard about restrictions being lightened on public schools the hope was child care centers would see some restrictions lifted as well, but in some cases the schools have passed what the centers are allowed to do. Notably, the current guidelines for child care centers and public schools — both published by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services — do not agree on daily screenings.

The tool kit for public schools does not recommend daily screening of students when they arrive, but the latest version of the child care guidelines requires screenings and temperature checks for anyone entering a center.

Screening became standard practice in early days of COVID-19, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are limitations to the screenings because they fail to identify infections in nearly half of kids when conducted by professionals in hospitals. The screenings also identify symptoms associated with COVID-19 in kids who may be sick, but not due to COVID-19. Young children are also less susceptible to contracting the disease, experiencing serious symptoms or spreading it.

Partners in Learning, a nationally accredited nonprofit with two care centers in Salisbury, will not be able to take summer campers on field trips unless restrictions are lifted.

“Honestly, we’re still waiting on a lot of guidance from the governor,” Executive Director Norma Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt noted the recommendation to not take kids on field trip is actually a requirement for centers like Partners in Learning that take state reimbursement for field trips. She said they can technically take kids on trips, but currently the state will not reimburse travel expenses for facilities that take public money.

St. Johns and Partners in Learning are still leaving soft surfaces out of its classrooms, including things like stuffed animals and pillows. The centers would have to sanitize soft toys every day, and Honeycutt said they would not last a week.

Honeycutt said many of her organization’s students have special sensory needs and had to lobby the state to allow them to use sensory toys. That change came through about a month ago and each kid gets their own sensory bag.

There were a handful of changes made to the child care guidelines in April, but they did not functionally change much for centers. The term social distance was retired in favor of physical distance.

Some recommendations for child care centers have never existed for the schools, including keeping students in separate cohorts throughout the day.

Hurley YMCA Executive Director Richard Reinholz said the facility is limiting its child care cohorts to 12 students, at this point just short of its normal 15.

The Y is hoping things will change and it can take summer campers on field trips, but it has planned for keeping kids at the facility.

St. John’s, in a normal year, would take kids swimming, to the library and out for a special arts and crafts day. Richardson said the center this year is trying to figure out what it will be able to do.

“Will we need to do it in smaller groups?” Richardson said. “What field trips can we do? You can’t wear a mask while swimming.”

Rowan-Salisbury Schools will begin summer break in less than a month.

There are some positives. Partners in Learning has been building back to its normal capacity. The hope for all the centers is that there will be more flexibility passed down by the state by the time summer is here.

“Last year we didn’t have one at all, so we’ve made a lot of progress to even be able to provide a summer camp,” Honeycutt said.

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