Two weeks into Phase 1 of Alberta’s relaunch strategy, Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz told Global News that preschools in the province will once again be allowed to open their doors on Monday if they follow certain guidelines.
“We’ve been working with the chief medical officer of health around guidelines for preschools so that preschools can open in the province starting on June 1,” Schulz said in an interview on Thursday.
“We have about 12,000 kids across the province who do access our licensed preschool programs, and so we’re really excited about that,” she added. “We also know that many parents choose this as a part-time option for child care as well, so this would give parents more flexibility and choice but ensure that some of those preschool operators who have been looking to open can do so safely starting on June 1.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, had ordered preschools to close in March, soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province.
When asked why preschools are allowed to open when K-12 schools remain closed, Schulz said it has to do with Alberta preschools being more similar to child-care centres.
“They do have spacing parameters and it’s very simple to put some of the sanitation and physical distancing guidelines in place for the centres [so they can open],” she said.
Schulz noted her government has consulted with preschools a number of times over the course of the pandemic so far and that a number of preschool operators indicated they were hoping to reopen.
On its website, the Alberta government says that preschool programs offer child care for four or less hours per day for preschool-aged children. Schulz said because most preschools will have morning and afternoon groups, it will give staff time in between to properly sanitize facilities.
“There will be limits to groups of 10 people, and that is adults and children in the room,” Schulz said. She acknowledged that will be difficult but said it is an important restriction to mitigate the potential for spreading the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. She noted that normally at preschools, that ratio is one educator for every 15 children.
In order for preschools that want to reopen to be able to do so, they must ensure fresh water replaces any potentially stagnant water in the facilities’ water lines. Once they reopen, preschool staff must also assess themselves for potential symptoms of COVID-19. The government has developed a lengthy list of guidelines for preschools wanting to reopen, which include guidance on use of shared spaces, sanitation and more. To view the guidelines, click here.
Jennifer Usher, secretary of the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Alberta, called the news exciting and said there are a “number of preschools that have really been waiting to hear this kind of information.”
“It’s a quick turnaround with only two days before they’re allowed to reopen, and I think there’s going to be a lot of questions and challenges for preschools to decide if they are ready to reopen or not,” she said.
Schulz noted that preschools that want to and are able to open are welcome to run outdoor summer programming if they want to.
Rakhi Pancholi, the Opposition NDP’s children’s services critic, said the ability to reopen on June 1 “is probably going to be good news for a lot of preschools.”
She said “it’s a really critical place for a lot of families” and, like Schulz, said many people use the facilities both for child care and education.
“I think what will be an issue and a challenge for preschools is that they have not had any financial support to reopen in the same way that child care centres have had,” Pancholi told Global News. “So, that’s the message that I’ve been hearing from preschools throughout the pandemic.
“They’ve been saying, ‘We also provide a critical role to families. We provide child care, we provide early childhood education and we’ve had no financial support from the ministry.”
Lauren Armstrong, a spokesperson for Schulz’s office, told Global News in a statement that while historically preschools have not received wage top-ups, subsidies or regular government funding, they have fewer restrictions on who can staff them than daycares.
“That said, we are open to having that discussion with them if costs are prohibitive,” Armstrong wrote.
Pancholi said preschool operators have also told her they would like more direct communication about reopening with Minister Schulz. Usher told Global News that while preschool operators would like to speak to Schulz directly before the June 1 reopening date, a townhall is scheduled soon after.
Pancholi said she believes preschools were given very short notice about a reopening date and questions how any preschool will be able to open on June 1 as a result. She also said it may be difficult for preschools to reopen without help from the government to acquire PPE.