A childcare campaign dubbed Save Our Spaces is calling on the province to allow childcare centres to reopen at full capacity in September.
The campaign was launched by a group of childcare providers concerned that thousands of childcare spaces may be lost if the government does not re-examine its COVID-19 restrictions.
Deborah Renwick, founder and principal of Ellington Montessori School in Scarborough, has run the school for the past 30 years and said she’s had to temporarily shut it down.
“The 75 spaces that I had including my wait list have all been dissipated until we can find a new space, which is challenging because of the bylaws and the city regulations of Toronto,” she explained.
Renwick said she was forced to vacate the space because her landlord refused to apply for rent subsidy, and she couldn’t afford the $22,000 a month while the school remained empty.
“I don’t know where all these children are going to go in September,” she added. “If I had a space, I could put them in tomorrow. I’d be on it.”
The province recently announced that the maximum number of children per room would be increased from 10 to 15, but Renwick said even if she operated under that guideline, she’d be running at significant losses.
“Parents are calling everyday asking how many spaces we have, how they can get a space.”
She and five other childcare operators are urging the province to take special consideration for these types of spaces.
“If we are told we are limited to who we can bring back, how do we pick? Do we pick your children? Do we pick their children? Do we pick the family of three? Or the family of one? The half-day child or the full-day child? How do we make those decisions?” Renwick said.
Leigh Anne Jacques is a co-owner of Beaches Montessori School, and one of the operators behind the campaign. She said communication from the government lacks clarity and does not make sense to childcare providers.
“When you have a licenced childcare centre, your capacity is based on your square footage,” she explained.
“Our classroom has a capacity of 15 because we only have 500 square feet. A classroom that has a capacity of 24 is about 250 square feet bigger than our classroom. So, if the purpose is to allow for social distancing within the classroom it’s not really consistent or clear.”
“Our goal always is to have enough safe places for our children to go,” Ford said.
“It’s not a one size fits all,” added Renwick.
“I could have physically distanced all my 75 children, including the private school side of it, because the building is so large. But that isn’t being taken into consideration.”
While many other businesses have been impacted by the pandemic, Jacques said childcare operators have been hit really hard.
“We’re one of the only sectors that was mandated to issue refunds which we don’t disagree with, but the reality is we’ve been closed, we’re having to issue refunds, we’re being asked to open at lower capacity and it just doesn’t make sense financially.”
Getting childcare back up and running is critical to reopening the economy but Jacques said the lack of proper communication from the government is impacting how parents and businesses plan their return to work.
“Parents are calling everyday asking how many spaces we have, how they can get a space. It’s very hard because everybody is in a heightened state of anxiety just living through a pandemic,” she explained.
“But there is also a part where we haven’t been able to properly plan because we haven’t really had good guidance from the government or clarity behind all their announcements so it’s really hard for us to make a plan and that transitions to it’s hard for the parents to make a plan.”
The campaign is calling on the province to allow childcare centres to operate at full capacity, arguing that strict safety measures can still be followed. CityNews asked Premier Doug Ford how he plans to support these centres, but his response was vague.
“Our goal always is to have enough safe places for our children to go. That’s what parents expect and that’s what we are going to do.”
To learn more about the petition, visit www.saveourspaces.ca.