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Next coronavirus cancellation: child care

Oregonians considering working from home to help stop the spread of COVID-19 may eventually be taking on the additional job of caring for their young children should child care and preschool centers decide to close their doors. And in what may be a sign of what’s to come, Southern Oregon Head Start, which provides education and care for 1,164 children per day, has already made that decision.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday night that starting Monday, March 16, all Oregon K-12 schools will be closed for two weeks as concerns over the coronavirus, or COVID-19, continue to mount. In a Thursday morning address, she also issued guidelines for workplaces, schools and child care facilities.

Brown’s child care recommendations include 10 bullet points, most of which are geared toward limiting personal contact that’s considered nonessential, such as training activities, field trips, in-person parenting education, staff meetings and other gatherings.

Representatives from an Ashland day care and The Siskiyou School, a Waldorf school that serves 185 students in grades 1-8, said Thursday morning they were taking steps to ensure the safety of the children. Southern Oregon Head Start, a federally funded program for children up to 5 years old from low-income families, decided Thursday to close all its centers, including the one in Ashland, starting Monday and will remain closed until March 30, according to Head Start Director Lisa Farlin. One thousand children ages 3 to 5 and another 164 that range from prenatal to age 3 attend Southern Oregon Head Start five days a week.

“It’s based on (Governor Kate Brown’s) guidance, and we’re trying to prevent the community spread,” Farlin said. “We wanted to take preventative measures to ensure the safety of our children and families and staff and our community.”

Farlin said she knows the move will be challenging for parents, but she believes it’s necessary.

“It’s going to be tough, especially for those parents who have to go to work and we’re their primary child care provider,” she said. “We understand that, but at the same time we hope people understand that we’re doing this for the safety of our community.

“When we talked to our region person this morning, she said what’s happening is ... school districts are waiting to decide to close until they have an identified positive case in their centers, and she said that’s really kind of a reactive, too-late situation. You’re never going to get ahead of it, you’re never going to prevent a community spread if you’re waiting that long to decide to close. So we just want to practice all the social-distancing things that we’ve been encouraged to practice and hopefully can limit the exposure for our community.”

Children’s World Montessori Director Michelle Keller said Thursday their center, which cares for about 100 children ages 18 months through age 5, will remain open but will continue to look for guidance from the state.

“Everything is day by day with the coronavirus right now because it’s unfolding,” Keller said. “So we’re working with the Ashland School District as well as the Oregon Child Care Division as well as the Oregon Health Authority, so all three of those agencies we are in communication with and we will follow their leads — all three of them.”

Brown's announcement came hours after the Oregon School Activities Association decided to cancel its entire lineup of winter state championships and temporarily shut down spring sports as well.

Keller said the staff at Children’s World Montessori will continue to monitor kids for symptoms, a practice she says is standard there anyway to help keep sickness from spreading.

“When (parents) call their child in for being sick, we ask them to tell us what the symptoms are, because we are always communicating that,” she said. “For example, if we have two children call out in the morning, we say, ‘What are your symptoms?’ And if it’s two children from one class who have a stomach bug, then we’re writing that up so parents know. So we’re just doing what we always do.”

The Siskiyou School is taking a similar approach. Though it’s a private school, Administrator Aurilia McNamara said, it will also follow the lead of the Ashland School District as it takes steps to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“We will not make our own decisions, we’re just waiting to see what will be mandated from the top,” she said.

Attendance had not really taken a hit before Thursday, she said, noting that only one family pulled its children out of school temporarily.

“Mostly it’s not a concern yet,” she said Thursday morning. “I mean, there are many parents concerned, but most kids who are not sick, who are healthy, are here.”

McNamara added that the school was employing the same preventative measures already adopted by Ashland School District.

“So in classrooms, we have hand sanitizers everywhere,” she said. “Children and teachers need to wipe down all counters much more frequently. A big tradition at our school is to shake hands with the teachers in the morning. We’ve let go of that, so now it’s just an elbow bump. Other than that, we’re just staying in touch with our parents and making sure we do everything that the district does as well.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.