Scott orders schools to provide child care for children of ‘essential’ parents

Ken Schatz
Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, testifies on the state of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center before the House Corrections and Institutions Committee on Jan. 30, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

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Gov. Phil Scott has ordered the state’s child care facilities to shut down, but is requiring public schools to provide care for the children of people considered “essential” to the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor’s directive, issued Tuesday evening, requires child care centers to close on Wednesday, although it allows – and in fact encourages – the continued operation of programs that serve families of “essential persons.”  

“Essential” persons are defined broadly under the mandate and include health care workers and first responders. 

Also included are criminal justice personnel, public health employees, child care providers, school staff, National Guard personnel and some state employees. Children between the ages of 0 through grade 8 are eligible for such care. 

There are about 1,200 regulated child care providers across Vermont, including in-home child cares, center-based providers, Head Start programs, and public preschool programs.

“Even as we ask the public to step back to help slow the spread of this virus, we are asking others, including our educators and child care providers, to step in and provide a critical service so those who are on the frontlines of our response can continue to care for the sick, protect the public and manage this evolving challenge,” Scott said in a statement.

The Scott administration also released updated guidance on Tuesday evening about how to provide child care as safely as possible during the outbreak. Those guidelines include practices such as having no more than 10 children in a classroom, and regular hand-washing and disinfecting procedures.

Child care facilities operate on notoriously razor-thin margins financially, and the order promises some level of financial continuity for programs that must shut down under the mandate. Both schools and private providers can continue to count on the payments they would have otherwise received under the state’s universal preschool law as well as subsidies for low-income parents.

Actor Jennifer Garner, left, looks on as Gov. Phil Scott reads to preschoolers at the Robin’s Nest Child Care Center in Burlington on Feb. 21, 2019. Garner, an advocate for Save the Children, was there to promote investing in high-quality, affordable child care. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Vermont’s commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, Ken Schatz, suggested in a call with lawmakers earlier Tuesday afternoon that the administration would also be proposing additional measures to help child care centers weather the COVID-19-related closures.

“We really want to make sure that we have a child care system when we get to the other side of this crisis,” Schatz told the Legislature’s Joint Rules Committee via conference all.

The details on how the state would provide additional financial assistance to child care facilities, and how much that might cost were not clear Tuesday.

Darren Allen, a spokesperson for the VT-NEA, the state’s largest teacher union, said the organization had only just seen the order and was still digesting it.

“Obviously, we did not anticipate this. We did not see this coming. So our team needs to look at the ramifications before we can advise our members,” he said.

The move to close the child care facilities comes just days after Scott ordered Vermont’s K-12 schools to close starting Wednesday, as coronavirus continues to spread in the state and across the country. At the time, the governor’s office said schools would be expected to participate in providing child care to health care workers and first responders, although the extent of the mandate was not yet clear.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is VTDigger's education reporter. Prior to Digger, Lola covered schools for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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