NORTH METRO ATLANTA — Local childcare facilities are feeling the crunch as thousands of parents are now working remotely and opting to keep their kids at home during the coronavirus pandemic. With enrollment numbers in freefall and safety concerns for teachers, kids and their families, many facilities have shut their doors until further notice.
Peggy Kernan, owner of the Crabapple and Milton Kids ‘R’ Kids academies, made the difficult call to suspend operations on April 2.
“We felt it was our social responsibility,” Kernan said. “It was a brutal decision, but we decided it’s what is best for our staff, kids and parents.”
Overall enrollment fell dramatically in March, and with far fewer students, the Crabapple location was closed March 18, its families absorbed into the Milton location.
Kernan said one of the core reasons to keep operating as long as they did was to provide childcare for parents in critical care roles. Several parents work in healthcare, and one works at the CDC. However, as the coronavirus spread, these families were making alternate childcare arrangements.
Another factor that drove her to keep the facilities open was so her employees could continue receiving a paycheck. The company was offering full hours at full pay, and some teachers were extra just on site to clean. With both facilities now closed until further notice, the financial burden on Kernan and her employees has increased. She and her husband, Rich, will not be taking any pay during the closure, and they are fortunate to be financially conservative, Kernan said.
“My husband and I have saved our whole lives, and we are not going to be putting people out on the street,” she said.
Kernan will be applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan and hopes between that, unemployment and the school’s distance learning initiative that has kept some on payroll, all her employees will receive their full pay.
The academies’ distance learning program was put into place in mid-March, and includes online classes, Zoom meetings with classmates and other ways to stay connected.
“I’m super proud of our teachers, they essentially created an all-new product we did not have three weeks ago,” Kernan said.
While the doors are closed at Kids ‘R’ Kids, families are not being asked to pay any tuition or holding fee. Some families have been gracious enough to continue paying, Kernan said.
“Every dollar coming in goes straight to payroll,” she said.
Primrose School of Alpharetta owner Irina Bhatia closed her school April 6 after an employee was tested for COVID-19. As of April 8, the results of that test are still pending. Bhatia said if the employee’s test comes back positive, the school will stay closed for at least two weeks.
Bhatia had planned to keep operating the school despite around a 75 percent decrease in enrollment in recent weeks.
“Many of the families in our care are essential personnel, especially nurses, as well as others who are still required to keep working,” she said.
Bhatia said most of those families were still using Primrose each day. She was only informed of her employee being tested the night of April 5, resulting in a short notice to families that the school would be suspending operations.
“Something like this greatly disturbs and inconveniences the families in our care, especially those who were unable to contact their employers in advance of their obligations for Monday morning,” Bhatia said. “We were not aware of the situation until very late on Sunday and had to act very quickly.”
Primrose has committed to keep all 31 of its employees on staff despite the closing, Bhatia said, but that will be challenging if the school remains closed longer than two weeks.
“We know the vast majority of preschools have had to make the difficult decisions to lay off all or most of their staff, but we are doing our best to avoid having to do that for as long as possible,” Bhatia said. “We love and value our team greatly, and we are doing everything we can to keep them employed and engaged with the families.”
A “special and superbly” generous family has given the school a lump payment of monthly tuition fees, even with their child at home, to support the school’s payroll, Bhatia said. Families have also donated cleaning supplies and brought lunch for staff.
“It is so very encouraging to know that our teachers are loved, valued and appreciated by the families in our care, and it certainly makes a difference for all of us taking the daily risk of coming to work every day,” Bhatia said.
In the meantime, Primrose is using its propriety curriculum and a distance learning program to keep kids engaged.