Licensed child care operators in Hawaii can open their doors again starting Thursday per an order from Gov. David Ige authorizing the piecemeal reopening of the state’s economy.

But it’s not likely many of those 600 businesses will be able to resume normal operations so soon, given parents’ lingering concerns about group settings, the need to parcel out classrooms for smaller teacher-student ratios and the suddenness of the announcement.

“The timing was sooner than we expected. However, we were happy to see the change come. We’re working to respond to it,” said Christina Cox, president and CEO of KCAA Preschools of Hawaii, which has shut its doors through May 31.

KCAA, which serves around 900 children a year, is not expected to move up its reopen date, Cox said.

Public preschools on DOE campuses, like Linapuni Elementary, are still remaining closed along with the school campuses.

Suevon Lee

In fact, it’s currently taking “a temperature check” from parents on whether they’d even be comfortable sending their children back into the classroom by June or prefer waiting until September.

“We need a couple of weeks, everybody is in the same situation,” she said. “We all have to have our schools cleaned — the doors have been closed a couple of months — call staff back, find out who has child care issues.

“We need a few weeks to get it together.”

The preschool operator also has to prepare to move to smaller class ratios like nine kids per group — pre-coronavirus, the average size was 24 kids to an instructor — and to modify protocols in accordance with any new guidance coming down from state health officials and leaders.

“We’re just expediting all our plans, and making sure we know what we’re doing,” said Cox.

Some Centers Have Been Open All Along

During a press conference Wednesday, Ige said allowing licensed child care operators to resume in-person operations Thursday went hand-in-hand with giving the green light to other select retail businesses.

“We are asking other businesses to open, and so child care operators would be allowed to take in the children of those other individuals who are going to work,” he said.

Not all child care facilities have remained dark during the pandemic.

With a state order that allowed essential businesses to operate, at least 100 child care facilities around Hawaii have remained open to parents who are considered essential workers.

That number reflects about one-sixth of all child care facilities licensed by the state Department of Human Services.

Some of those participating businesses, including Cole Academy, are holding steady to limited seating plans.

In an announcement posted to its website, academy operators asked parents who were not considered essential workers to keep their children at home and not bring them to school if they don’t need child care.

Kama’aina Kids, whose preschools have also remained open to children of essential workers since the work-at-home order took effect, is prepared to fully operate by next week, according to its preschool division director, Buffy Owens.

It has come up with a “pandemic protocol,” including prohibiting parents from entering the schools, regularly dipping toys into sanitized solutions and adjusting its 20-to-1 teacher-child ratio to 10-to-1.

Owens said the nonprofit has gone from serving around 1,800 kids a day during a normal year to about 420. Even with services reopening to nonessential workers, it will only have capacity for 1,000 kids per day with its current staffing and new protocols.

“We’re ready, we’re here for the families, we’ve been here since Day 1 and we want to be able to support them,” she said. “I think it’s very important. It’s time to move on.”

Pre-K classrooms for 4-year-olds operated on Hawaii Department of Education campuses and run through the Executive Office on Early Learning will remain closed, in accordance with the DOE’s decision to close for the rest of the academic year.

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