Church child-care programs reopen cautiously, reflect on God’s provision in crisis

As Alabama businesses reopen following COVID-19 closures, church-run day care centers are making plans for when, how or if they will reopen.

An April 30 “Safer at Home” order in Alabama permitted day care centers to reopen with restricted class sizes of 12 or fewer. The order encouraged enhanced sanitation and social distancing practices consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Alabama Department of Public Health. But even with the enhanced measures, the shadow of the coronavirus persists, as Central Park Baptist Childcare Center, Decatur, found out May 20.

Central Park reopened its child-care center on May 4, keeping its group sizes below 11 and limiting use of common areas to one group at a time, according to state health guidelines for day cares. The day care also implemented new drop-off and pickup procedures, keeping parents in the front area of the facility. Enhanced cleaning procedures were put in place, including wiping down doors, spraying disinfectant more often than before and sanitizing toys daily and more frequently for younger children, said Director Karen Florence.

But on May 20, the day care learned that one of the infants in their care had tested positive for the coronavirus. According to Central Park Baptist Church Pastor Matt Haines, speaking to The Decatur Daily, the infant began to show symptoms on Saturday May 16 after staying at the day care the previous week.

Haines said all children are checked for fever before entering the day care, and the infant did not have a fever Friday, May 15. Central Park notified other parents of the positive test and made the decision to close on May 20 out of caution.

On May 21, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced loosened restrictions related to COVID-19 beginning May 22, including lifting limits on the number of children at day cares in the state. Day cares and other activities remain subject to social distancing and sanitation guidelines.

Florence said Central Park’s child care center had been at full capacity under the restrictions that expired May 22.

Ready to come back to school

Like Central Park, many child-care programs delayed reopening until a May 11 amended state health order released an expanded list of businesses to reopen and allowed more Alabamians to return to work.

First Baptist Church Wee Care in Jacksonville reopened May 18. Director Denyse Spruill said staff members are cleaning four times a day, wearing masks and taking temperatures at the door. Parents currently are not allowed in the building.

Spruill noted enrollment is down to 50% capacity, but she is confident the numbers will improve as things normalize.

A Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan enabled Wee Care to continue paying employees during the shutdown, she said.

“Some families are nervous about coming back because you can’t social distance a 2-year-old,” Spruill said. “Families know we work hard to keep everything clean. We’ve offered part-time [enrollment] to help ease the transition. Families are ready to come back to school.”

She added that the center continued to connect with families and to supplement learning during the shutdown through videos and weekly social media craft posts.

Other programs, like Eastside Baptist Daycare in Birmingham, delayed opening as they awaited further developments.

A ‘fluid’ plan

Lauren Haley, Eastside director of weekday early education, said the program reopened May 26 with temporarily restricted hours to accommodate requirements limiting teachers to one group per day.

“We look forward to being able to resume our regular daily schedule at Eastside Baptist Daycare, but until then we will follow and stand behind our local and federal government as they seek to guide us with their best judgment of our safety,” Haley said.

Eastside staff developed a fluid plan for reopening to ensure safety and sanitation throughout the center’s daily operations, she noted. Foot traffic is limited, with children “exchanged” at the front entrance.

While the center withheld tuition charges during the closure, Haley said they did continue to compensate employees with regular salaries. The lengthy closure has impacted the center’s financial stability, she added, but the center has applied for a PPP loan and continues to honor the promise they made to pay their employees.

“We trust that the Lord will provide through whatever way He sees is best for our future,” Haley said. “As a whole, the families and staff of our day care center have been very supportive in the decisions that we have made during this time. For that, we are extremely grateful and count it as a blessing.”

Other programs, like Eastern Hills Child Development Center in Montgomery, were still closed at press time and monitoring the current community health situation. Eastern Hills church administrator Dan Harris said the congregation is exploring possibilities.

Waiting until fall

Hunter Street Baptist, Hoover, and other churches plan to reopen Mother’s Day Out in the fall.

For more information regarding Alabama’s day care reopening standards, visit https://governor.alabama.gov/newsroom/2020/05/governor-ivey-issues-amended-safer-at-home-order.