It’s almost here! While many daycares and preschools are open all year long (in non-pandemic years), others follow the traditional school schedule. If you’re enjoying a summer break or looking forward to welcoming new children to your business, you may be wondering – like many of us – what the heck to expect when the ‘new year’ begins.
No other time in recent history has been so turbulent and confusing, requiring just about every business in the country to be nimble, flexible, and adaptable. We all had to make changes to our typical business practices over and over again. Some of us ‘paused’, some of us served essential workers all throughout, and some are still waiting to reopen.
Regardless of your status, you may well be curious as to what will be required of your staff and students when fall arrives and new guidance is issued. Will students and staff need to be masked? Will they need to be vaccinated? Can an owner require vaccine compliance?
Before we dive into what we actually know right now, please note that every single word in this article is subject to change. You will want to watch for recommendations and requirements set forth by both the Center for Disease Control (CDC), your state’s Department of Health, and the local government.
Masks or No Masks?
First, those aged 2 and under should never have face coverings as they pose a risk of suffocation for babies and toddlers. This has been the case all along.
And while your staff may be fully vaccinated, children under the age of 12 are still ineligible for vaccination. Logically, it follows that the CDC will continue to recommend precautionary members to protect students, families, and staff from the coronavirus. Currently, the agency’s recommendation is that children over the age of 2 should continue to be masked when in public settings (aside from when they are sleeping or eating).
Mask mandates will vary from state to state, as various government agencies, such as state and local health departments, will make determinations regarding mandated mask usage. Some states currently exempt children under the age of 5 from mask-wearing, while others require students aged 2-4 to continue to wear them in daycares and other public places.
Other disease mitigation strategies are also either required or recommended. Improved ventilation, social distancing, limited class sizes, frequent handwashing and cleaning, limiting outside visitors (and parents), and keeping classrooms isolated from each other will all help our businesses avoid outbreaks so we can remain open for business going forward.
But What About Vaccines?
Time will tell when vaccines will become available for the youngest members of our society, who happen to be a prime population in our workplaces. Currently, there is no vaccination requirement for older students at public schools, and that decision will be left up to individual states should anything change.
Most school systems have also not yet mandated that adult employees are vaccinated. This is in part because the vaccine is being distributed under an emergency use authorization. Once they are fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is possible – and in some cases likely – that the public sector will require them for federal and state employees.
As a business owner, you also have the option to require that employees are vaccinated, according to recently issued guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Do note that you must still provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are exempt from mandatory immunization based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and other federal laws.
As to answering questions from concerned parents about whether or not your staff is vaccinated, we can shed a little helpful light on that. It would be a clear violation of federal health privacy laws (HIPAA) to share information about a specific teacher’s vaccination status. While a parent is legally allowed to ask a teacher directly whether or not they are vaccinated, the teacher has no obligation to answer. You may, however, provide information about the rate – or percent – of teachers or staff who are vaccinated at your childcare center.
The above is based on the information currently available from the CDC and other sources. As you begin making plans to welcome children back to your center in the fall, be sure to build flexibility into your plans.
Variants of the virus and low vaccination rates in certain regions are creating somewhat of a resurgence of the disease. This may lead to more turbulence for business owners as new mandates and recommendations can be issued at a moment’s notice. Current best practice would suggest frequent visits to your state’s health department and education department along with city and/or county sites for the latest information as it becomes available.
Remember, we are all in this together. Our industry has endured unique struggles during the pandemic, and WunderCare is here to help by making your day-to-day a little easier. We’ll be monitoring federal guidelines for childcare centers and preschool and will be sure to share with all of you when we hear of anything that might impact your important and valuable work.