COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for childcare providers, families, and students, and from speaking to our community of providers, we know there are some tough decisions that need to be made. Our team has put together this resource - in collaboration with industry experts, government agencies, and advice from our own brightwheel provider community - to take some of the guesswork out of navigating COVID-19.
Table of Contents
Should I keep my preschool or childcare center open?
Keeping your center open
- How can I maintain financial stability if my enrollment numbers are reduced?
- What steps can I take to keep my students and staff safe?
- How can I keep staff morale high during this time of uncertainty?
Temporarily closing your center
- If I decide to close my center, what are the steps I’ll need to take?
- Should I still charge families tuition while my center is closed?
- Should I continue to pay my staff while my center is closed?
- What are ways I can continue helping my staff and families while my center is closed?
- How can I make the most of my time while my center is closed?
Should I keep my preschool or childcare center open?
As a result of COVID-19, center owners are grappling with the big decision of whether to continue providing a vital service to communities while ensuring the safety of their staff, families, and students.
If you’re unsure of what to do or where to start with your decision making process, you’re not alone.
There are a number of important factors to consider in making this decision:
Has your local government mandated a closure of childcare centers?
Each state has its own set of regulations as it relates to school closures, and guidelines for K-12 schools aren’t always the same as for childcare providers. Visit ChildCare Aware of America to learn about regulations and recommendations for your state.
Do you serve families of essential workers (healthcare, law enforcement, food services, etc.)?
Staying open enables doctors, nurses, first responders, restaurant staff, and other essential workers to continue supporting our communities during a time we need them most.
Has there been community spread in your area, or has a student, staff member, or family member been diagnosed with COVID-19?
If there is community spread in your area, work with your local health officials to devise a plan. If someone diagnosed with COVID-19 has entered your premises, the CDC recommends proceeding with a two to five day closure to disinfect the area and assess the situation with local health officials.
Do you believe staying open now will help you stay open in the long term?
The CDC is unsure of when the situation will improve, which means you may end up staying closed longer than originally planned. Keeping your center open means many families will likely continue to pay tuition, and may make it easier to re-engage families once you re-open. Even if families choose to keep their children at home, there are ways for you to support them remotely (more detail below).
Have you considered financial relief options to help you get through this challenging period?
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering $7 billion in low-interest federal loans to small businesses in designated states and territories impacted by COVID-19. View a comprehensive list of loan and relief resources for small businesses and early education programs impacted by COVID-19 here.
Additionally, the largest economic stimulus bill in U.S. history passed on March 27, and will provide a tax credit for certain businesses who keep idled workers on payroll. The tax refund can be as much as $5,000 per worker. But keep in mind, businesses can only receive either the SBA low interest loan or the tax refund, not both. Learn more about the $2.2 trillion stimulus package here.
While each provider’s situation is unique, we recommend approaching this decision holistically by considering the impact on your community, staff, families and business.
Keeping your center open
How can I maintain financial stability if my enrollment numbers are reduced?
The first step towards maintaining financial stability is understanding your current financial health. Take stock of your weekly expenses, available funds, and any children on subsidy to get a sense for how long you can maintain your current operations.
Coach Brian Duprey has a number of suggestions to bolster your financial stability, with the goal being to weather the storm so you can continue operating your center as soon as the situation improves. Here are a few ideas to help:
- Maintain tuition. Consider charging full or reduced tuition for families who keep their children at home, while continuing to offer lessons virtually. Some centers have also asked families who keep their children at home to pay a fee to hold their spot in lieu of charging tuition.
- Enroll new students. Work with your state licensing group to identify closed centers and schools with school-aged children who may be looking for open centers where they can refer families. You may also want to look into enrolling children of essential workers by advertising your program to this group online and in your communities.
- Seek financial support and credit options. There are public and private loans, grants, and support programs for small businesses and their employees. Here’s a list of financial support and credit options for early education programs impacted by COVID-19. If you need help applying for loans, consider partnering with resources such as Fountainhead Commercial Capital to get started.
- Manage expenses. Identify your largest expenses and negotiate recurring payments - for example, with your landlord or mortgage company. Consider asking for lower payments for the next few months and add the discounted amount to future payments over an extended period.
What steps can I take to keep my students and staff safe?
We know that keeping staff and students safe is the top priority, as it is for every center owner we spoke to about COVID-19.
You should continue to monitor the situation in your area and comply with state and local guidelines, such as disinfecting your premises, practicing good hygiene, and enforcing social distancing.
Here are a few practical tips we’ve collected from our community that you can implement immediately:
- Actively encourage sick staff or children to stay home.
- Provide employees with underlying health concerns, including those who are immunocompromised, the option to stay home.
- Consider limiting each classroom to ten or less people or separating lunch and play time into two shifts.
- If possible, keep one classroom empty at all times so you can disinfect it while others are in use.
- Assign extra teachers who aren’t with children to focus on cleaning classrooms and toys.
- Consider minimizing use of communal items such as touchscreen devices.
- Only allow staff and students into your center. This means families should wait outside to drop off and pick up their children and tours should be conducted virtually.
How can I keep staff morale high during this time of uncertainty?
Your staff are playing a vital role in caring for the children of families that need it most, so it’s critical to continue showing your appreciation whenever possible. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
- Find ways to nourish your staff, like having a coffee and donut party.
- Get your staff gift cards to a local restaurant or shop that is also remaining open.
- Write personalized thank you notes to your team, acknowledging ways you’ve seen them going above and beyond.
- If you’re in a position to do so, consider increasing pay for several weeks or months.
Keep in mind, most closures are temporary. Although some of these ideas will increase your expenses in the near-term, making sure your staff feel appreciated will reduce the chance of turnover, which will make it easier for you to rebuild your center once the situation improves.
Temporarily closing your center
If I decide to close my center, what are the steps I’ll need to take?
If you choose to close your school for an extended period (longer than two weeks), here’s a quick checklist for what to do:
- Notify local health officials, staff, and families of your program’s closure and its duration. You can quickly send messages to families through brightwheel, which frees up time for you to work with your local health department, who may have specific recommendations for how you should proceed.
- Make sure all contact information for staff and families is up to date. If you use brightwheel, ensure all families are signed up. This is critical for keeping everyone informed and providing the support they need while children are at home.
- On the last day your center is open, secure your premises with security padlocks and suspend waste collections.
Should I still charge families tuition while my center is closed?
The National Association for Independent Schools advises programs to review enrollment contracts first to understand the legal rights of your program and families. You’ll also want to consider your center’s culture, the community you serve and their financial circumstances, and available resources via donations and government assistance, throughout your decision making process. Keep in mind, in most states, any students on subsidy will continue to be supported, so make sure to confirm coverage of those students
From speaking with our community, there are a few ways providers are approaching this topic:
- Charge full tuition in the short-term, and consider reducing to partial tuition if the closure extends for longer than two weeks. With brightwheel billing, you can easily add discounts to recurring or one-time charges as a percentage or a dollar amount.
- Waive tuition but request a small payment, such as a portion of tuition, to hold a student’s spot once the center reopens.
- Provide learning activities, like digital lesson plans and virtual circle time, and request full or partial payment in exchange.
Coach Brian Duprey advises centers to think of ways to help reduce the burden on families during this difficult time, while also ensuring that you maintain as much financial stability as possible. Doing so will allow you to continue serving your community through and after this challenging period.
Don’t forget to explain your situation to your families. Share that you have expenses and staff to pay, and that in order to be able to reopen after the coronavirus threat has been mitigated, you need to be able to cover basic costs in the interim. Furthermore, your staff relies on their payroll and you are doing your best to support them.
Should I continue to pay my staff while my center is closed?
We understand how integral your staff is to your center, and this decision should not be taken lightly. However, you may want to consider offering staff the ability to leave voluntarily to minimize your expenses and ensure your center’s ability to thrive longer-term.
Remember, any staff member you lay off will be able to collect unemployment benefits. And in many states, benefits kick in on their first day of unemployment. Learn more from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Moreover, with the $2.2 trillion stimulus package approved on March 27, unemployed workers will get $600 each week on top of their unemployment checks for up to four months.
What are ways I can continue helping my staff and families while my center is closed?
Although school closures will inevitably impact families, students, and staff, there are ways you can continue supporting them during this challenging time.
Ways to support families and staff:
- Check in with each family and staff member periodically via phone or video conferencing to provide support and maintain relationships.
- Offer at-home learning options to families by sharing lesson plans and hosting virtual activities such as circle time.
- Implement virtual social hours with families at your center, and do the same for staff to maintain your center and team’s culture.
Many providers are using technology like brightwheel and Zoom Video Conferencing to offer activity time, lesson plans, and social hours virtually. By doing so, they’re able to provide value, support, and much needed relief for staff and families while centers are closed.
How can I make the most of my time while my center is closed?If a closure is unavoidable, we suggest finding ways to take advantage of a potentially slower period, with an eye toward emerging even stronger once you reopen. Here are a few ideas you may want to explore.
- Take care of yourself. We know how stressful these times are, but it’s important to remember to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
- Invest in your programming. Consider implementing staff training to hone new skills, explore new accreditations, or build out your curriculum to enhance your program.
- Evaluate system and process improvements. Now can be a great time to look at your current operations and implement some of the ideas you may have put on hold, such as evaluating new software solutions like brightwheel to help simplify your day-to-day operations.
- Invest in marketing. Continue to advertise your center to maintain a healthy enrollment roster for when you reopen.
We know how critical your services are for students, families, and communities and we are inspired by your commitment to early childhood education -- now more than ever. We hope this guide will help you navigate these challenging times. We are in this together as an early childhood learning community, and our top priority is supporting your needs. If you have any feedback or ideas on what else we should cover, please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.