The Child Development Consortium, a group of 11 day care centers throughout Los Angeles, remain open through the stay-at-home orders, quickly pivoting to incorporate new safety measures to protect students and staff from COVID-19.
One classroom typically has 42 students, but new state licensing regulations limit the class size to 10. All of the students are the children of essential workers.
"The first days were actually traumatizing for everyone, specifically for the teachers because they felt they were not safe," said Ancelma Sanchez, program director of the Child Development Consortium.
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Besides temperature checks and hand washing, students are learning to keep their distance. Where eight children used to sit, there are now just two, each child with a designated seat and their own box of crayons and markers.
There is no sharing. Every small toy used is disinfected overnight. Plus, parents are not allowed to go into the classroom anymore, Sanchez said.
Each parent now has their own sign-in sheet, folder and pen, and if their child is sick, even just the sniffles, they can't stay.
UC Berkeley education and public policy professor Bruce Fuller says while the Child Development Consortium has made meaningful changes, coronavirus testing must also be available before thousands of students can return to class.
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"We know that the incidence rate for coronavirus is very, very low among children, so the real risk is the teachers carrying the virus and so testing is essential," Fuller said.
According to Fuller, there are lessons to learn from educators in Denmark, Beijing and Shanghai where elementary students are already back in class.
"One is to ensure there's testing of adults and kids at school at least on a weekly basis or so to make sure that if any child or adult shows symptoms that that's taken care of right away," Fuller said.
Fuller says educators are also considering splitting larger classes in half into morning and afternoon sessions, with afterschool programs to lengthen the day.
"The second idea is to kind of platoon, so that kids are in school, one group is in for three days a week and the others are in for two days a week," Fuller said. "And then you flip that week to week."
A clear and predictable plan is a must, Fuller says, though Sanchez says the real trick will be getting students to keep their distance.
"That's going to one of the biggest challenges, children love to hug and play together, socialize," Sanchez said. "We're missing that."