This week, Vermont Governor Phil Scott directed all childcare centers in the state to cease normal operations. But he also ordered schools and “encouraged” childcare facilities to provide services to essential personnel during the coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday the governor outlined details regarding his directive affecting child care centers and schools.
Governor Scott opened with a short speech to raise Vermonters’ spirits. He then outlined the steps he has taken since last Friday to stem the spread of the coronavirus. They include declaring a State of Emergency, closing all bars and restaurants except for takeout, and the dismissal of schools across the state. Scott is now ordering the closure of licensed child care centers across Vermont. “However I've asked centers and schools to provide childcare services for those deemed essential personnel. This includes health care and public health workers, first responders and those involved in our state emergency operations centers and many others knowing we may need to add to this list.”
With the overall goal of the directives to limit spread of the virus through social distancing, state leaders were asked what protocols were in place to assure the child care for essential personnel will be safe. Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith: “We've limited the classroom size for these facilities down to 10. We've also put the various sanitation requirements in place. We have the ability to make stricter recommendations as we move forward and we feel that will ensure or at least make people feel comfortable about the safety of the decision we've made.”
Education Secretary Dan French said guidance has been issued to schools defining essential personnel. He reported that necessary waivers had been received from the federal government to continue serving meals to students. But he noted that labor issues have emerged during the two-week closure period. “We're asking a lot of our education labor force during this state of emergency. We have directed education staff to report to work during this two week period of school closure to accomplish three main objectives. One, to maintain the education programs with students. Two, to support our most vulnerable students, and three to plan for the continuity of education programs in the event of a prolonged school closure. We are not expecting school staff to report to work if they have concerns about their personal health. Also I have directed schools to ensure all staff get paid for their regular scheduled hours during this two week period.”
While schools have been ordered to provide care for children of essential personnel during the closure period child care centers may voluntarily comply. Secretary Smith says private child care providers are stepping up to fill needed gaps. “And many centers have told us that they're willing to work extra shifts. So we are grateful. We're working with organizations like Let’s Grow Kids to bring all this together.”
While medical, fire and law enforcement are automatically considered essential, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling said a task force at the Emergency Operations Center is assessing what other jobs are essential during this crisis and will provide the information to child care providers. “And adding to that list and grocery store workers, folks who are distributing food and people in the supply chain that supply that food are essential people. So we expect additional guidance to be available as that list evolves.”
Governor Scott: “And as we've shown over this short period of time this is evolving and we are making changes as we see necessary.”
Vermont Health Department Coronavirus information and state updates: