HARWICH – When The Children’s Center closed in mid-March due to the state of emergency declared by Gov. Charlie Baker, Director Abby Newberry-West told parents the shutdown should only last a couple of weeks. But more than two and a half months later, requirements in newly released Reopen Massachusetts regulations for preschools and childcare centers will make it impossible to reopen this summer.
“It’s a huge, massive undertaking,” Newberry-West said, one The Children’s Center cannot afford. Newberry-West spent Thursday notifying the parents of the 27 children who attend the preschool that they will not be operating when the state allows doors to open at preschool/childcare facilities in Phase Two on June 29.
“They were sad, there were tears,” she said of responses to her calls. “These people are like family. It’s hard for me to call and tell everybody.”
The state Department of Early Education and Care issued a 32-page Child and Youth Serving Programs Reopen Approach document on June 1 defining minimum health and safety requirements for child and daycare facilities. It would take $7,000 to $10,000 a month more to implement the requirements in the reopening provisions, Newberry-West said. The center on Sisson Road has two classrooms, and traditionally 15 children spend time in the larger one and 12 in the smaller one.
The Children's Center won't be closed forever, she said, but given the financial impact of the reopening provisions, the requirements for social distancing and the activities that won't be allowed — children would not be allowed to share toys or to sing due to the potential for spreading the virus — she cannot see the facility opening this summer. The earliest she expects to be able to open is September.
The new provisions limit groups to no more than 10 children, and while only one teacher was previously required for every 10 children, the new guidelines require two teachers. Under the new provisions only eight children would be allowed in the smaller classroom, reducing the school's capacity. Extra cleaning and PPE products are also required.
The preschool is able to raise between $50,000 and $80,000 a year, Newberry-West said, money that is directed toward student tuition assistance. There are not a lot of other funds for childcare available, she said. The additional costs associated with reopening provisions have created “a financial crisis for us.”
The Children’s Center is a non-profit organization established through the Harwich Ecumenical Council for Housing. HECH was founded in 1990 with a mission to provide affordable housing for families in the surrounding area. As HECH’s affordable housing stock expanded, they realized family members could not work because many had young children in need of childcare, thus making it difficult for these families to be self-supporting.
In 1993, The Children’s Center was started in the First Congregational Church of Harwich Center. It bounced around for a dozen years before establishing a home at the Sisson Road facility in 2005. Newberry-West became director in 2001.
HECH has been very supportive of the center and worked to get the paycheck protection loan put in place, she said. With the decision not to reopen, however, staff members will no longer be employed and were scheduled this week to sign up for unemployment benefits.
Newberry-West said she is in constant contact with directors and teachers at other preschool/childcare facilities discussing how the situation is being handled. Families are facing a lot of unknowns and are trying to figure out ways to provide childcare, she said.
Theresa Malone, director of Monomoy Community Services in Chatham, said her agency is studying the new requirements to determine how it can reopen. She said an announcement is expected to be made in the next week or so.
“We’re emotional about the importance of this great little preschool to the community, but we can’t figure it out,” Newberry-West. “We will and we will be open again soon.”