By Anaridis Rodriguez

BOSTON (CBS) – Day care operators are worried new safety rules could put them out of business. Several licensees tell WBZ-TV the state may be considering plans that could temporarily exclude infant care and cut classroom capacity by as much as half.

“I have lost more than half of my preschool room, more than half of my pre-k room, my infants,” said Erin Bradley, owner and operator of Peas in a Pod Nursery School in Saugus, of what she anticipates her new normal will be.

Bradley’s been working in the industry since 1989 and is licensed to care for 53 children. She says a limited capacity will cut her tuition revenue and with requirements potentially calling for the hiring of more staff, she doesn’t know how long the center will be able to keep its doors open.

“Things are changing drastically and one of the problems is we don’t know what to do,” Bradley said. “I’m gonna fight, I’m going to do everything I can to keep this open.”

Day care centers in Massachusetts have been ordered closed until June 29. A spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Early Education and Care (DEEC) says they’ve spent two months gathering feedback from industry professionals, families and providers and that they plan to release detailed guidelines at some point this week.

The DEEC licenses approximately 9,000 childcare programs and provides financial assistance for more than 56,000 children to attend.

Colleen Maloney Benedix has owned her Woburn daycare, Puddle Duck, for 31 years. A PPP loan has allowed her to pay her teachers and aides for eight weeks, but she’s been closed for nearly three months. She says she’s concerned an environment that separates children to maintain physical distancing and requires face coverings could hinder a child’s development.

“I’m afraid that they’re going to make changes that are going to make the children’s experience at school scary,” said Benedix. “I’m hearing that we won’t be able to have infants. I accept infants. I’m licensed for seven, that’s a third of my enrollment.”

Puddle Duck has now joined forces with Daycares United. A group that started out with 29 operators and a petition, to the governor and DEEC commissioner, and has now grown to an advocacy association with nearly 100 members. Many of these providers fear if infant programs were eliminated indefinitely they’d be forced to shut down.

“It seems that our cries for help are reaching deaf ears,” said Christopher Vuk, owner and director of Rock and Roll Daycare and the group’s lead organizer. “This decision, if allowed to become official policy, will most certainly result in the closure of hundreds of programs across the state.”

For, Diane Lebo access to infant care means flexibility to continue her PhD. Lebo gave birth to her second child three weeks ago. If she can’t find a care arrangement for her newborn, it could mean a delay in completing her doctorate degree.

“It’s terrifying to think that I would need to leave all that to take care of my kids. I love being with them but I need my job,” said Lebo. “Not to put my children’s lives in jeopardy or anything but kids are least affected by this virus right? Them going back is not as dangerous as us going back.”

Also concerned of the impact, especially to working women, is Adrienne Gerken, a physician and mother of two. Her youngest is three months old.

“We know that women are more likely to move into the workforce when child care is available and we know women are more likely to move out of the workforce when child care becomes less available,” Gerken said. “This is an issue for my family personally and one for society at large.”

Anaridis Rodriguez

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