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Ohio day cares can soon return to normal class sizes. Should they?

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Posted at 11:16 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 00:24:40-04

CINCINNATI — Child care providers in the state of Ohio can legally return to normal class sizes starting Aug. 9, per Gov. Mike DeWine’s Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Shannon Starkey-Taylor, who runs The Learning Grove in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, plans to look before she leaps.

“There’s so much unknown,” she said Tuesday night. “We don’t want to shut something down or increase a group size when that actually might have been what’s keeping us safe from a staff perspective and then from a children and family perspective.”

The Learning Grove implemented temperature checks, mask-wearing and limited group sizes months ago, according to Starkey-Taylor. Depending on the age of the children, group sizes were reduced by as much as half.

DeWine isn’t mandating that day cares return to normal class sizes — those that don’t can even claim an incentive payment from the state. Starkey-Taylor said she’s weighing her options carefully, keeping in mind both the risks of expanding class size and the degree to which working parents rely on child care.

“We’ve had a few parents and even staff saying, ‘This is good news, right?’” Starkey-Taylor said. “And again, it’s back to just the unknown of this pandemic.”

Learning Grove and other child care centers in the region will likely rely on each other to develop best practices and shape parents’ expectations for the remainder of 2020. They’ll also rely on places like 4C for Children, a child care resource and referral agency that — among other services — connects families with child care that meets their needs.

“We have been guiding childcare providers to contact families, if possible proactively, before those families reach out to them to discuss what the situation is for their program,” CEO Vanessa Freytag said Friday.

Many programs won’t have the same number of spots they did before the pandemic. In some cases, children won’t be able to return. Competition for remaining spaces is intense: Freytag recalled situations in which 4C staff made dozens of phone calls to find an open slot for a single child.

She said early communication, whether it comes from a day care reaching out to parents or vice versa, will help prevent nasty surprises.

“Please call the provider you are intending to go back ,” she advised parents. “Make sure you know what’s happening. Do they have space? Do they have your old space ready for you? And most importantly, what will be different for that child now returning?”

Freytag also encouraged parents seeking child care for the upcoming year to reach out to 4C. Workers there will do their best to find an open space, even if it’s on the other end of 40 phone calls.

Starkey-Taylor is still weighing her options.

“I think any provider that struggles with this, there’s no right or wrong answer,” she said. “They’ll have to do what makes sense for their organization.”