Child care facilities in Aspen to open next week, challenges ahead
After over two months on hiatus due to COVID-19, day care facilities in the Aspen area are set to open Monday, which will be a relief for hundreds of parents throughout Pitkin County.
Facilities are limited to 10 children in a group and classrooms will be designed around 6-foot social distancing practices, according to state and local public health orders.
Strict protocols will be in effect, everything from temperature taking of children at arrival to mask wearing by kids and adults.
Shirley Ritter, director of the city’s Kids First program, said Wednesday it will be challenging to operate under COVID-19 conditions but she’s confident that teachers will follow the guidance.
“With social distancing with kids, it’s do the best you can,” she said. “I think it will take a lot of practice on all of our parts.”
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At the Yellow Brick schoolhouse, where the Early Learning Center, Playgroup Aspen and Aspen Mountain Tots are located, each of the classrooms will be accessed from the exterior of the school.
Prior to being let in, teachers will give a visual inspection of the child looking for any signs of illness, and parents will be asked if their child has shown any signs of illness or has been exposed to those who have been sick.
“This is on the parents to make sure their kids are healthy,” Ritter said.
Other day care facilities, such as the Wildwood and the Little Red School House, also will open next week, as will about a dozen others throughout the county.
Ritter said the Yellow Brick will open with about 100 kids. The facility has a capacity of 150 children.
She added that parents who have been at home with their kids trying to work has been challenging, and others are going back into their workplaces and need child care badly.
“I think that has been a stress,” Ritter said. “I feel like (opening) is the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The state this week also gave guidance to summer camps, which City Manager Sara Ott told Aspen City Council on Tuesday that many in the area are preparing for a mid-June opening, including the city’s.
As part of its $6 million COVID-19 relief and recovery fund, council in April approved up to $1 million for child care efforts.
The money is coming out of the Kids First fund, which is backed by dedicated sales tax revenue.
The bulk of that money will be for child care financial aid for families in need, and retaining qualified providers and staff in the community.
Ritter said about $21,000 has been put toward rent relief for providers who were forced to close due to public health orders.
Roughly $250,000 is set aside for emergency financial aid for parents who are economically affected by COVID-19.
“Most of this will come down in June,” Ritter said, “and we have to support those families.”
Cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment for area providers has totaled $7,300 so far, and interior upgrades like new carpet in the Yellow Brick have amounted to $40,000.
Another $75,000 subsidy is going to preschools to keep room sizes small, Ritter said.
While the city’s child care relief efforts are limited to Pitkin County, it has left other providers left out in the cold.
That’s the case for Kelly Beal and her business partners who bought Honey Tree Child Care in El Jebel earlier this month.
Honey Tree has been the only child care facility open in the Roaring Fork Valley throughout the pandemic to serve essential workers who are needed at their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis.
Some of those parents are essential employees who work in Pitkin County but Honey Tree has been told it doesn’t qualify for assistance because it is located in Eagle County.
“I feel like we’ve supported the community but we aren’t getting any support,” Beal said, adding that as a new business owner and being limited to 10 kids to a classroom, she’s having a hard time paying the rent, her business loan and the teachers. “We aren’t paying ourselves.”
Beal said because she’s only owned the business since the beginning of the month, she doesn’t qualify for the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program to cover teacher pay.
Of Honey Tree’s 14 teachers, seven are working right now.
Beal sent a letter to the Eagle County commissioners asking them to advocate for child care providers so the state can increase the size of groups.
“Day care wasn’t thought of during these phases (of reopening),” Beal said. “We need some leverage to get more capacity.”
Ritter said it’s a tough situation for most child care providers who are in an economically challenging industry regardless of COVID-19.
“Early child care programs across the state are in a world of hurt. … These businesses didn’t have cash flow to begin with,” she said. “It’s not a good scene right now.”
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Basalt’s Midvalley Family Practice saw early on in the coronavirus crisis that uninsured residents of the region weren’t getting proper care. It formed a nonprofit organization to test for COVID-19 and offer other medical care. Its funds are dwindling.