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County Leaves Day Care Providers In The Dark On Changes To Restrictions

Andi Dukleth
Children are seen through a fence playing on a playground at a daycare facility in Lincoln Park, June 5, 2019.
County health officials made a significant decision last week to allow day cares to begin accepting children whose parents are nonessential workers. But because of miscommunications, day care providers are just now getting the message.

County health officials made a significant decision last week to allow day cares to begin accepting children whose parents are nonessential workers. But because of miscommunications by Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and other officials, day cares are just now getting the message.

The pandemic has forced the closure of most day cares in the region, while a few have stayed open to serve parents who are essential workers—doctors, nurses, police officers, grocery store workers and others. But those centers have had to drop their class sizes down to 10 from as many as 24 before the pandemic.

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The change last week in the county's public health order to allowing nonessential workers to send their children to day care should allow far more day care centers to open up. But several providers were still in the dark nearly a week after the decision.

RELATED: Day Care Only For Essential Workers Amid Pandemic, But Some Say Local Enforcement Is Lax

"I haven’t received any information on accepting children from nonessential workers," said Holly Weber, the owner of Magic Hours Preschool in Mira Mesa.

Fletcher and a county spokeswoman both confirmed the change.

Last week during a county news briefing, Fletcher did stress the need for more child care, but didn't mention the nonessential worker change.

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"You cannot effectively reopen jobs if schools are closed and there's no place for kids to go during the day," Fletcher said during a May 7 news conference.

He did announce another change: day cares can increase the number of children in a group, from 10 to 12. But it turns out that does not apply to most child care centers in the county.

Weber, the owner of Magic Hours Preschool, said that on Tuesday she and hundreds of other day care providers had a conference call with Fletcher, where he told them he was wrong, class sizes had to remain at 10.

She said people on the call were very upset because groups of 12 children made it more feasible for them to run their businesses.

Fletcher refused to do an interview with KPBS, but his spokesman James Canning explained the new rules.

"During the call, he did acknowledge details were a bit confusing," Canning wrote in an email. Canning went on to say the confusion stemmed from the fact that day cares licensed by the state are limited to groups of 10. Meanwhile, day cares not regulated by the state can have groups of 12.

But the vast majority of day cares in California are licensed by the state, according to a spokeswoman for the state's child care licensing division. Those that aren't include family care centers that only work with one family, after-care run by schools and "community care facilities" that provide nonmedical residential care for handicapped or abused or neglected children.

Weber said she was upset by the clarification after having been thrilled last week to hear that she could increase her class sizes to 12. Before the pandemic, she had classes of up to 24 children with two teachers. Now she can only have classes of 10 kids but still needs two teachers in each class. So she needs to hire twice as many teachers, which would double her payroll.

"These are unsustainable demands that will cause the child care sector to diminish if not completely go away in weeks, not months," she said. "There is no way we will be able to continue at the current recommendations."

County Leaves Day Care Providers In The Dark On Changes To Restrictions
Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.