Penn State announced Monday that both the Child Care Center at Hort Woods and the Bennett Family Childcare Center at University Park will reopen on Aug. 19, less than one week before the fall semester is scheduled to begin.
In a virtual town hall Monday, university Provost Nick Jones said both centers will reopen with a comparatively limited capacity and added safety precautions. But parents who attended the meeting on Zoom expressed concern and questioned why the details haven’t been worked out yet.
“Our top priority has consistently been the health and well being of our community. We are moving forward because we can follow all health and safety requirements. We would not do so otherwise,” Jones said.
Vice President for Human Resources Lorraine Goffe said there is no plan to change the curriculum, but dropoff and pickup procedures will be modified to limit the number of visitors at the centers. Teachers and children older than 2 will wear masks, and cleaning protocols will prohibit soft toys and stuffed animals for kids.
Teachers who were previously put on furlough or reduced pay will return to full pay beginning Aug. 1.
Many parents who attended the town hall wanted to know how the social distancing guidelines will impact the capacity of the centers. Others worried that, with limited capacity, their children will not be guaranteed a spot if parents decide to keep kids out of care for a period of time.
Some parents said the university isn’t providing the information they need to make decisions regarding child care in the fall.
“ If four months wasn’t enough time to figure social distancing out for children, how is it going to happen in the next three weeks? ” asked Rebecca Henn on Zoom during the virtual town hall.
“In listening here, I am not confident that things have been sorted out to let my child back into the child care center,” a comment from Corey Weathers said.
Jones said there’s “no question” that “capacity is going to be more limited than it was before,” but he didn’t share specifics.
“We are certainly hesitant to provide information that is not final,” Goffe said. “And we know that you need information to make plans. But we also don't want to mislead or provide information we later have to change. And I understand the frustration with that. It is actually not just limited to child care across the organization, in every organization, because we get new information daily, around COVID-19.”
Jones said more details about the centers’ reopening can be expected in the coming days. He added the university will share its plan for testing and contact tracing in another virtual town hall this Thursday.
Jones said the recent departures of Heather Kimble, former director of the Bennett Family Childcare Center, and Christine Ebeling, former director of Hort Woods, were not related to the reopening plan and will not affect the centers’ ability to reopen safely.
The Daybridge Child Development Center at Innovation Park is managed by Bright Horizons and was not discussed as part of the reopening plan.
Penn State is planning to return to a partially in-person fall semester on Aug. 24.
Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly identified the latest director of Hort Woods to be Linda Reichert. We regret this mistake.