Published Date: 03/05/20
The novel coronavirus – COVID-19 – is a respiratory virus rapidly spreading across the country. The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, and initially fatalities from the disease were extremely high, though the rate has since rapidly declined in the country.
With the coronavirus taking foothold in the United States, many people are panicking, fearing quarantine and generally avoiding group settings. For some, this extends to childcare.
We’ve reassured families that at this time, there’s no indication that children should be pulled from daycare or preschool. However, you will likely encounter some families that decide to keep children home.
It’s critical that you prepare yourself for this situation so you can mitigate impact to your business. Here’s what you can do until the coronavirus panic subsides.
If families want to unenroll temporarily
While you always have the safety of children at the forefront of your mind, you still need to run your business and pay your bills. You should follow the policies laid out in your parent handbook regarding holding spots. If you do not have a clear policy on holding spots, now is the time to create one. Your policy will likely depend on the area you’re in, your competition, and the ages of the children you serve. If you have a wait list and can easily fill vacancies, you may decide that you do not hold spots and that tuition must be paid in full each month. If you’re in an area with more spots than children who need it, you may decide to hold spots with a deposit. Whatever you decide to do, it’s critical that you clearly communicate your policy in advance.
If federal, state, or local health organizations require you to close
In this instance, income insurance likely doesn’t cover your losses – that’s typically only in the event of a disaster like fire or flood. You need to strike a balance between maintaining a good relationship with your families and keeping your business afloat. We’ve found the one of the best options is providing a partial tuition credit toward the following month, depending on the length of closure. Your employee handbook may or may not cover extended closures due to unforeseen circumstances. If so, communicate and follow all procedures.
Ensuring sick children are not at school
Testing for the coronavirus is limited and presenting as cold-like symptoms in many people, especially in children. It’s completely plausible that hundreds, if not thousands, of people are currently infected but unaware. Remind parents of your illness policy, but consider crediting them for sick days during this time to encourage them to keep children home who have even minor illnesses.
Offering drop-in care
If you find you have families unenrolling temporarily, one great option to generate income is to offer drop-in care. Ask currently enrolled families to spread the word to the community that you’ll be providing it in the short-term. Charge hourly or day rates and take advantage of people wanting to drop-off children while they attend to other things. Always staff accordingly to ratio laws.
Leaves of absences
You may have staff members who want to take leaves of absences while the coronavirus is still perceived as a threat. Staffing is always difficult for daycare and preschool programs but it’s essential that you have qualified substitutes ready to step in. Consider temporarily raising your substitute pay if you find it more difficult than usual to attract subs.
Temporary school closures
If you decide to close your childcare program temporarily because of coronavirus or if mandated by health authorities be prepared to continue paying your staff during that time. Depending on the length of closure and the reasons, they may be able to file for partial unemployment. You should provide them necessary information to make claims in your state.
Sick day policy
Consider expanding your sick day policy for childcare staff. As with children, encourage staff to stay home for even minor illnesses and ensure they are paid for the day, even if they’ve exhausted their sick leave.
Federal, state and local guidelines
Exclusion from care
Several states have recommended that any child or staff member who takes a trip to mainland China be excluded from care or work for 14 days following their return. Note, this only applies to mainland China and not to Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan. Send your state’s guidelines or the guidelines issued by the CDC for childcare providers to enrolled families.
Communication is key
Keep channels open and be available
We always believe in clear and open lines of communication with the families enrolled in your daycare or preschool. Communicate to families exactly what you’re doing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus within your childcare program, including reiterating proper hand washing techniques.
Protect families at your daycare or preschool
Throughout the coronavirus outbreak, there have been widespread reports of racism against Asian Americans. Protect families at your school and your staff by keeping all medical information confidential. Beyond that, reiterate to families that Asians in the US are no more likely to contract or transmit COVID-19 than people of any other descent. Your leadership plays a critical role in combating racism. If you hear staff or families making racist statements, stop them immediately, provide the facts, and remind them that racism will not be tolerated. With staff, be proactive and remind them of your policies regarding racism. Let them know that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken if racism is heard or reported.
Bystander training can be an effective tool in training staff and this presentation and handout from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University.
The bottom line
As widely reported, use common sense procedures, reinforce and practice proper hand washing techniques, and most importantly, be prepared, communicate, and be nimble. Doing so will ensure your daycare or preschool business continues to thrive during and beyond the COVID-19 outbreak.
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