West Grand Middle School students perfect their team-collaboration skills to solve the puzzle and find the key code that unlocks their escape room during fifth-day activities run by Colorado AeroLabs. (Photo provided by Hannah Glines)

Citing the needs of working parents, especially frontline health care workers, state agencies called on Colorado child care centers to stay open even after dozens of Colorado school districts announced closures to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

In a letter sent Saturday afternoon, after a number of child care providers in Denver already announced they would close temporarily, state officials said some child care providers “are taking the school closures as a cue for them to also proactively close. We are not requesting or encouraging this approach.”

A second letter, sent Sunday evening, acknowledged the guidance to stay open “may be confusing,” but said child care centers are generally smaller than K-12 schools and college campuses where the risk of virus transmission is higher. It also asked for help identifying open slots that could be used for workers in essential emergency jobs.

The letters reflect the difficult tradeoffs involved in any decision to close schools, given that many parents still need to work. But the state guidance left some child care providers who announced closures Thursday or Friday surprised and frustrated, especially given the shortage of coronavirus tests and uncertainty about how many people have already been exposed.

Several Denver providers said they had thought carefully about whether or not to close, consulting health care professionals, their partners in local school districts, and infectious disease protocols. But they didn’t hear any clear message during the work week about staying open — from the state health department or the state human services department, which oversees child care. 

“I am flabbergasted by the information released yesterday by [the state],” wrote Chelsea Moran, the owner of a Denver child care center and preschool called Wonder Academy, in a letter to Gov. Jared Polis on Sunday. 

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...

Ann Schimke is a senior reporter at Chalkbeat Colorado covering early childhood education. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the Denver Post. She holds a master’s degree in education policy from the University...