Bullock Directive Classifies Childcare as ‘Essential,’ Provides Guidance

April 1 directive allows facilities to remain open, outlines safeguards and priorities

By Myers Reece
A room at Discovery Developmental Center on March 27. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive last week classifying childcare facilities as an “essential business” and allowing them to remain open, while providing additional guidance such as safeguards to protect children, families and childcare workers.

An April 1 press release stated the directive would “ensure that Montana’s essential workers can receive access to childcare during the state of emergency.”

Childcare facilities were allowed to remain open before the directive was issued, but some advocates said the state guidelines lacked clarity. Numerous providers opted to follow recommendations from national childcare advocacy groups and shut down, while others remained open, often in a limited capacity.

The April 1 directive also requires childcare facilities to “prioritize the placement of children whose parents or guardians are essential workers” as defined in Bullock’s March 26 stay-at-home directive. Bullock’s office noted that childcare is “critical to enabling Montanans to continue to work” in essential businesses and operations such as health care, law enforcement, human services and others.

Bullock’s press release said Montana is unable to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic if essential workers can’t do their job because they have to be home caring for their young children.

“Like many Montana families, our state’s essential workers are pulling double-duty, working and caring for their children at the same time,” Bullock said on April 1. “We must make sure childcare is still available to lessen the burden on Montanans who are on the frontlines of the response to COVID-19, while taking appropriate measures to keep children and workers safe.”

Among the directive’s guidelines are: childcare must be provided in stable groups of 10 or fewer children with the same children in the same groups each day; children may not access any classroom space allocated to a different group of children, and priority should be given to keeping members of the same family in the same group; facilities must prioritize the needs of children in the custody of individuals engaging in essential businesses and operations; providers should, where possible, limit the total number of children in any one facility to 24.

The directive said facilities that can’t comply should cease operations for the duration of the directive, which was effective immediately and “expires at the end of the emergency.”

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