School adjusts to pandemic protocols
By Ann McCreary
Little Star Montessori School experienced two COVID-19 cases last month, one in a teacher and another in a student, which prompted brief campus closures and longer closures of two classrooms.
Though hardly welcome, the infections were something Little Star had anticipated, said Dani Reynaud, executive director. “Any business or organization that’s open right now, that’s what we have to plan for. We were well prepared and knew this was part of being open and doing child care during a pandemic,” Reynaud said.
A teacher tested positive after developing symptoms in early January, and the Winthrop campus was closed for one day on Jan. 7 to allow Little Star staff to work with health professionals to conduct contact tracing.
In mid-January a student tested positive and Little Star closed both the Winthrop and Twisp campuses on Jan. 19 and 20 to conduct contact tracing. School officials decided to close both campuses “out of an abundance of caution” because of potential contact between the student and students at the other campus, Reynaud said.
The classrooms that experienced the cases were closed for 14 days to minimize risk of transmission, impacting 18 students and their families, said Reynaud. “These temporary closures are hard on families but we also know it’s in the best interest of students and families in our communities,” she said.
Little Star provided tuition refunds to families impacted by the closures, and provided full pay to teachers who were required to quarantine. The tuition refunds totaled about $20,000, Reynaud said.
Like many organizations, Little Star shut down in the early days of the pandemic last spring, and then began reopening in April to provide child care to people working in essential jobs like health care. “We slowly expanded to anyone who needed child care to work,” Reynaud said.
“One of the most impactful changes we’ve had to make is reductions in class size,” Reynaud said. Classes have about 22% fewer students than normal, she said.
The school asked parents whether child care was necessary for them to work, and some parents offered to keep their children home. For families whose children are at home, Little Star has included parents in online “parent cafes,” where they can discuss different topics with other parents, and provided activity kits for the children.
Little Star was prepared for repeated closing and reopening, Reynaud said. “We feel fortunate we were able to operate for nine months without any cases. We knew this would be part of it, without being able to socially distance in an early learning setting,” she said. “You can’t socially distance with toddlers. You have to hold them and sing to them and read to them.”
Reynaud said Little Star families follow a “health and wellness” pledge, similar to one used by the Methow Valley School District, that provides guidelines for safety measures like wearing masks, social distancing, and hand washing, limiting travel and large gatherings, and conducting daily wellness screenings.
“Our communities and families have been so supportive. And we are really grateful for the partnership with have with health providers at clinics and with Aero Methow,” Reynaud said.
The reduced class sizes have resulted in a 20% drop in tuition income for the school, which is operating at a deficit, Reynaud said. Little Star would normally have held one of its biennial fundraising auctions this spring, but is planning on an online auction instead, with hopes of an in-person event in 2022, she said.