Students mask up for the first day at Valeska Hinton, some parents face difficult decisions due to COVID-19

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Wednesday is the first day back to school day for students at Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center in Peoria.

While heading back to school usually means new backpacks and supplies, this year, it also means face masks.

“It’s a completely different experience,” said Jason Benne, who dropped off his son. “I’m a little bit nervous with everything going on, but I think it’s going to be handled in the right way.”

At school, some parents said their kids will get a more well rounded experience.

“I feel like it’d be better with teachers, being around friends, and being around more people that’s his age,” said Jatyra Dawson, who dropped off her 4-year-old son Jatavious Dawson.

Principal Katie Cobb said her teachers are prepared for this new year.

“We’re really excited to be back at school. All of our teachers and students I know are looking forward to it,” said Cobb.

Everyone will have to wear a face mask and social distance. Cobb said these are new skills kids will learn just like washing their hands or tying their shoes.

“What’s nice about early childhood is they’re already learning brand new. They’re 3 to 5 years old, so everything is new to them,” said Cobb.

To limit interactions, students will stay in their classrooms after being dropped off. They’ll eat lunch in the classroom, and there won’t be any library or playground time.

Cobb said teachers will find ways to make students comfortable in a fun learning environment.

“We want to make sure that we stay positive and support and make it the best experience possible,” said Cobb.

One Valeska Hinton parent said sending her son to school means sacrificing after school daycare. Sara Tate said KinderCare in Peoria told her Tuesday that her son would not be able to attend daycare part-time.

She said her son would have attended KinderCare five days a week after school at Valeska Hinton. She said Valeska Hinton is the best option for her son who needs speech therapy.

Tate said she got a call the day before her son’s first day of school, with an August 7 deadline to find alternate care. Now, she’s rushing to find new options.

“It was very surprising to get that call because he started school today. There’s the instant panic because what am I going to do with my child,” said Tate.

WMBD reached out to KinderCare and received in a statement that centers were focusing on cleaning and health, and “…Part of those safety mesaures include maintaining a consistent classroom structure with the same group of children with the same teacher every day.”

The statement went on saying, “…In an effort to reduce the potential exposure of the rest of our center community to COVID-19, we are no longer accepting part-time students.”

The full statement from KinderCare is below:

“The health and safety of our children, families and staff is always our top priority. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we developed enhanced health and safety measures in partnership with the CDC and a panel of medical experts to ensure our centers remain as clean and safe as possible. Part of those safety measures include maintaining a consistent classroom structure with the same group of children with the same teacher every day.”

“We recently spoke with two families from our Peoria center whose children attend Valeska Hinton Early Childhood Education Center. Since Valeska is a year-round program, these two children attend KinderCare on a variable schedule. In an effort to reduce the potential exposure of the rest of our center community to COVID-19, we are no longer accepting part-time students. We offered the two families in question fulltime spots for their children at our center, however, the families declined. We understand this was a difficult decision for them. We offered them a list of other childcare providers in the area who might be able to accommodate their children’s schedules.”

KinderCare

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