Commentary: In school reopening discussion, keep day cares in mind

By Connie Merlet

Thoughts concerning the issue of school reopenings have dominated all week, since the governor’s press conference last Tuesday. For the life of me, I don’t know how they are going to open schools. They are having schools prepare for three scenarios and name a COVID point person in each building. Then, they send out a 34-page document of should- and must-dos.

Even if it were providing the needed funds to accomplish this, the state is putting schools in a nearly impossible situation. Many schools have a principal, a secretary and a nurse as the only three people not in classrooms. Can you imagine the stress on that single nurse, who already has a full-time job? Nurses are not epidemiologists. And the state has not, as they have not for child care, spelled out exactly what schools are to do when a student or staff member tests positive. They say there should be a “discussion.”

These are completely unacceptable mandates. The document for reopening schools is vague, rife with inaccuracies and offers so little in the way of health protections that schools will be petri dishes for the virus. In Florida, one-third of children tested have come back positive! To say that these children will not spread the virus is just disingenuous. Schools have reopened successfully around the world. The state is not following any of their protection measures.

Child care centers around the state are having discussions regarding their roles when schools reopen. They realize there is a need for care so that parents can work. Schools have been referred to as “free babysitters” in recent weeks. Child care institutions, of course, are quite costly but neither are they schools.

Certainly, we all realize what is at stake, and we wish for a return to normalcy, and we want to do the best we can for our families, but this is not a snow day when child care centers say, of course, bring those older kids in; this is not summer camp when centers plan fun, enriching activities. We must realize that it is not the job of child care to be the substitute teachers of children. The state has to have a better plan.

Centers were not trained to be grade school teachers, and we should not think that is a role we are suited for. We do wonderful things for parents and children. Becoming remote teachers and disciplinarians for children who are sitting in front of computers for hours of remote learning is not our expertise, nor our jurisdiction.

As all of us go down the “what to do” road, I hope everyone realizes what all of our roles are. This is not a time to pit schools against day cares and parents against both.

This is a much larger conversation about roles and responsibilities. We must look to our leaders to lead. No one should be hungry, be losing their home or apartment or health care or job security or be worried about what to do with their children. Our federal and state leaders can take care of this, just as has happened now in nearly every other country in the world.C

Connie Merlet is the director of a childcare center and was previously on the Christina School Board.  She lives in Newark.