As schools close, daycare providers struggle with path forward during COVID-19 pandemic - Casper, WY Oil City News
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As schools close, daycare providers struggle with path forward during COVID-19 pandemic

Faculty at Foundations Early Care & Education work on an upcoming curriculum during an in-service day earlier this year. The center cares for around 95 children. (Foundations via Facebook)

CASPER, Wyo. – On Sunday, Wyoming’s governor and superintendent recommended state public schools close starting today through at least the beginning of April.

The majority, if not all school districts, followed the recommendation, including the Natrona County School District.

For private daycare and early learning centers, however, there is no clear directive.

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Stephanie Kottwitz-Rino, owner and director of Foundations Early Care & Education, received an email from the Wyoming Department of Family Services on Sunday afternoon.

“They’re basically just telling us because we’re a private business that this is a decision we have to make,” said Rino, “so we really don’t have a lot of support when it comes to figuring this out.”

If there’s an up side to the pandemic, health experts say that children have proven to be highly resilient to COVID-19.

However, it’s extremely contagious and can be deadly to older people. It can also incubate without symptoms for days, so many states are closing schools and recommending staying home or avoiding large crowds.

“I know for the majority of us it becomes an issue of, if we close we’re not getting tuition potentially, unless our families are continuing to be charged for care that they’re not receiving, and we will not be able to keep our doors open,” said Rino. Foundations has a staff of 19 that cares for 95 children.

“The majority of early learning programs I know of, we operate basically paycheck to paycheck, and we do not receive any state or federal funding,” Rino said.

Rino is also aware of the essential service she and other centers provide for working parents in the community.

“Obviously we need our healthcare providers to be able to go to work,” she said.

Rino says she and other providers in Casper are considering multiple factors before coming to a clear decision, including staying open but implementing more strict guidelines.

Kyree Corbett, director at Kids Works LLC, says she hopes to serve the community as best as she can.

“We are reaching out to our enrolled families that have school-age children and opening our doors to them as our teachers and resources allow,” said Corbett in a message to Oil City News.

“Our hope, is to offer parents a place for their children for those that are still working,” she said.

Wendee Webb, director at Apple Tree Learning Center, said she intends to stay open as long as possible.

“Parents still have to work even though public schools are closed, and we provide a much needed service for the community,” said Webb in a message to Oil City News.

Webb said she will ask parents to keep children showing any signs of illness at home, and continue diligence with sanitizing and disinfecting their facility.

“It’s difficult to know exactly how to navigate this as it’s not anything we’ve ever experienced as an early childhood center or as a community,” said Webb. “I don’t think there are any ‘wrong decisions’ being made whether centers close or stay open as it’s all uncharted territory.”

Webb says her facility is small, which can help facilitate “social distancing.”

She says closing will not only impact families that rely on her service, but also her employees.

Rino is in contact with childcare directors in other states, including those where the coronavirus outbreak has dramatically advanced, in hopes of finding solutions moving forward.

“I don’t know what to do, I’m hoping to get some information (today) and put some strategies into place,” she said.

Corbett of Kids Works perhaps summed up the situation best.

“This is a wild time.”

The author of this article has a child who attends Foundations.

The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:

What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email:

  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.