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Daycare closures leave local staff out of work, parents scrambling

Orillia Central Preschool, West Ridge Early Education Centre close their doors; 'I'm broken for them,' official says of laid-off staff

At least two daycare operators in Orillia have closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving staff out of work and parents looking for alternative arrangements.

Orillia Central Preschool leases space at St. Bernard’s Catholic School, Orchard Park Public School and Brechin Public School — the latter being used only for before- and after-school and March break programming.

It was notified by the Simcoe County District School Board and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board that access to those facilities would be prohibited. So, Orillia Central Preschool decided to temporarily close its standalone facility on Laclie Street, too.

“We felt that it would be in poor judgment to say the children at our north location would be safe,” said executive director MaryAnn McLennan.

Orillia Central Preschool serves about 140 kids per day in daycare and between 300 and 400 families altogether. They will be reimbursed for the services lost during the shutdown.

“I think that helped a little bit because it’s not as much of a financial burden for them, but it’s still an inconvenience for them,” McLennan said.

The closure also means 48 staff members have been laid off. McLennan issued records of employment Monday so staff could apply for Employment Insurance.

“They’ve been remarkably good about it, but I’m broken for them,” she said. “If we could afford to pay them, we would in a heartbeat.”

McLennan hopes there will be some subsidies available to staff upon their return to work, whenever that might be.

“Ideally, we would open back up as soon as the schools open,” she said, noting the province hopes to have kids back to school by April 6.

It’s a similar story at the West Ridge Early Education Centre on University Avenue. Its closure was effective Monday.

The not-for-profit organization serves more than 200 families and had to lay off almost 50 people.

While the centre was not forced to shut down, its board of directors made the decision, in part, because the onus was on staff to use the screening tool provided by the health unit, leaving them only to trust that people would be honest.

That was too great a risk, said executive director Rebecca Koza.

“The main reason was we wanted to protect our workers as well as the individuals in our program,” she said.

Clients’ accounts will be credited once the centre reopens.

“It wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly,” Koza said of the temporary closure. “We know what the impact is on a community when child-care centres close.”

Ryan McVeigh knows, too. The father of two young children will be juggling work and looking after his kids at home.

McVeigh is a professor at Lakehead University. His five-year-old was in junior kindergarten and his one-and-a-half-year-old was in daycare.

“It’s been highly disruptive, but I understand completely why we’re all in this situation. I don’t blame the daycare or the school system for shutting down,” he said.

Lakehead classes were called off for Monday and Tuesday, and online classes will begin Wednesday, meaning McVeigh can work from home. His schedule is more flexible than that of his wife, whose Monday-to-Friday job does not allow her to work from home.

“What’s keeping me sane is knowing there are other people who are not so fortunate,” McVeigh said, adding he feels badly for those whose options are more limited. “It’s awful.”

He realizes the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the routines of not only instructors, but students, too.

“It’s new for everybody, so we need to be generous and kind,” he said. “I’ll be more flexible with them. I’m going to err on the side of forgiveness and I’m asking them to do that as well.”

“We’re all in this together,” he continued. “We have to be a little more kind and forgiving to one another.”