Is it Safe to Send Your Kids Back to Preschool during COVID-19?

By Stacey Grumet

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, many daycare and preschool programs in the United States shut down, leaving millions of parents without childcare for months

In some cases, programs closed by mandate and in others, childcare providers closed as a precautionary measure. Yet, states are beginning to reopen stores, restaurants, and childcare programs. This may leave you wondering what changes to expect and fundamentally, is it safe to send your kids back to preschool and daycare during COVID-19? 

In this guide, we address 9 frequently asked questions we’ve received from parents who are also considering sending their child back to daycare or preschool. Read on to learn more. 

1. Is it safe to send your kids back to preschool or daycare during the COVID-19 outbreak?

When determining if it’s safe for your child to return to daycare or preschool, you need to weigh your personal risks versus rewards. All data that’s been released supports the fact that mortality rate among children without underlying health conditions is close to zero. However, we cannot say if it’s safe or unsafe with certainty as there are a number of factors that each individual family must consider, including case numbers in your area, underlying conditions in children, underlying conditions in others in the household or extended family you visit with, and protocols your childcare provider or teacher (even a kids yoga teacher) is enacting. Given that COVID-19 is a new virus, discoveries are being made daily you should continue to reevaluate your situation with the latest information. 

There are thousands of childcare providers who have remained open across the country throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have been limited to serving essential workers and others have been open to all families. 

Recently, there have also been reports that clusters or illness may be traced to a group childcare setting, though there’s no universally accepted definition of cluster. In Texas, a cluster is defined as three or more positive cases traced to a single setting. There’s an ongoing investigation by Austin Public Health as to whether or not a cluster occurred in a childcare facility, but it has not been confirmed and information as to whether or not children or staff tested positive is unavailable at this time. 

North Carolina defines a cluster as five or more positive cases traced to a setting and began public reporting of clusters stemming from childcare or schools on June 22, 2020. 

Most states, however, have not released specific information on clusters stemming from childcare centers. 

2. What new policies and procedures will be in place to protect my child from COVID-19 at daycare or preschool? 

The CDC has issued guidelines for operating childcare facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, however it’s important to recognize that these are guidelines, not mandates. Each state, and in some cases, each county will issue their own mandatory procedures.

The CDC’s guidelines include screening procedures, which often include temperature checks at drop off and throughout the day, and observation of children and parents dropping off for signs of illness. 

Keep in mind that drop off and pick up procedures are likely to change at your childcare facility. Most providers are not permitting parents to enter their facility and drop offs and pick ups will take place curbside. 

Plus, children will likely be required to wash hands upon entering the building, as well as throughout the day while in care. 

In addition, cleaning protocols will be increased at your daycare or preschool. Toys that cannot be sanitized, such as stuffed animals, will likely be removed. In some instances, books and other paper materials are considered low risk for transmission and will remain. 

3. Will my child be required to wear a mask at daycare or preschool? 

Masks protocols are being determined state by state and school by school. You should speak with your provider and ask about their mask policy. 

4. Will my child be in the same class when they return? Will he or she have the same teacher? 

Most states have issued mandates reducing the number of children per classroom as well as the ratio laws, meaning one person can care for fewer children than they previously could. If your state has reduced the number of children per class, there is a chance that your child may be placed in another classroom. 

As many daycare and preschool teachers were furloughed or laid off during the COVID-19 outbreak, there’s a chance that not all of these teachers will return to your facility. We recommend speaking to your childcare provider if you have specific requests or questions regarding your child’s class placement or teacher prior to returning. 

5. Will children be forced to distance socially and play alone? 

Within a class, children will not be forced to distance themselves from their peers and play alone. However, most states have enacted rules forbidding classes from mixing. So, if your child has friends in other classes, they most likely will not be able to play together. 

You may find that your childcare provider includes more small group activities throughout the day, with two to four children from the same class participating at a time.

6. Will the teacher be able to comfort my child when he/she is upset? 

It’s critical that children in daycare and preschool are comforted by trusted caregivers when they’re upset. Social and emotional development is a crucial part of group childcare and your child’s teachers will still be able to provide comfort. 

The CDC recommends that daycare and preschool teachers wear an oversized button down shirt over their clothing that can be easily removed and replaced after comforting a crying child and coming into contact with tears, saliva, and mucus. Your provider may decide to follow those guidelines. 

7. Will my child be scared by the changes at daycare or preschool due to COVID-19? 

At this point, your child has probably lived through many months of social distancing, school and business closures, and is accustomed to seeing people in masks and other personal protective equipment. 

However, transitioning back to daycare or preschool may be challenging. Some of the challenges may be driven by your child’s age – there are peaks of separation anxiety between about 10 months and three years old. It will also be driven by your child’s personality and how eager they are to return to daycare or preschool.

Speak with your provider in advance of your child’s return so you can prepare and talk to your child about changes in the wake of the coronavirus. For example, it’s critical that your child knows if they’ll have a different teacher or if they’ll be separated from friends. 

You can even read books together, like “The Kissing Hand,” “The Pigeon HAS to Go To School!,” “Pete the Kitty’s First Day of Preschool,” and “Llama Llama Misses Mama” to help your child with the transition back to daycare or preschool.

If your child attends a full day program, you may want to also consider early pick-ups for the first week or two to ease them back into things.

8. What happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19 at my child’s daycare or preschool?

Your childcare provider should have a protocol in place if a child, family member, or staff member tests positive for COVID-19. This may include reporting the case or cases to local licensing and the health department and following regulations, like additional cleaning measures. It’s possible that your provider may close for a period of time following a positive COVID-19 test in the facility. Speak with your provider so you can adequately prepare backup options, if needed. 

9. Will I have to sign waivers or changes to my childcare contract as a result of COVID-19?

Each provider will enact their own policies regarding their contracts and COVID-19. Some childcare providers are requiring families to sign liability waivers stating that they are not responsible if you or your child contract COVID-19. While this may sound unsettling, typically there’s already a clause in childcare contracts absolving the provider of responsibility if your child gets ill in their care. 

Some childcare providers are also asking families to sign contracts stating that they agree not to engage in behavior the provider deems risky. This may include traveling out of state, congregating in large groups, or attending crowded events. Your childcare provider may also modify their contract and require tuition payments or hold fees in the event of a future closure due to COVID-19 or force majeure. There isn’t a standard across the board and each childcare provider will set their own terms that families must follow.

The Bottom Line

There is no right or wrong when deciding if and when you should send your child back to daycare or preschool during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every family has unique needs and you must determine the risks and rewards for yourself.

So, speak with your childcare provider in advance to understand what changes will take place in your facility. Then, assess your comfort level with those changes, and adequately prepare your child for the transition back. 

Whatever you decide, make sure you take into account your family’s health and lifestyle as well as the lifestyles of the other families that attend your daycare or preschool. 

About Stacey Grumet: Stacey is the founder of Paper Pinecone, a thought leader in Early Childhood Education and a marketplace for parents to find the best daycare and preschool programs in their area. Parents can search thousands of providers at no cost and providers always list for free.

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