Wisconsin Child Care Workers Saddened by Call for Limit on Staff, Children

Governor Evers's order puts a huge burden on employees and parents.

SUPERIOR, Wis.- One of Superior’s busier child care centers reacts to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’s decision to scale back staff and amount of children in child care settings.

The order dictates that organizations are not allowed to operate with more than 10 staff and 50 kids present.

Meanwhile in Minnesota on Tuesday, Governor Tim Walz offered support to child care across the state, but he did ask larger facilities to limit the number of kids they take in.

Wisconsin’s order goes into effect 8 a.m. Thursday.

But staff at New Horizons Children’s Center in Mariner Mall say even that’s not enough time to make some major adjustments.

UPDATE: The owner of New Horizons Children’s Center who was interviewed for this story, alerted us that she was told she can operate two centers in her one location, as long as there is no co-mingle with children and staff. That is her plan moving forward. 

“This is so emotional. Here we’ve been trying to do everything to keep our children safe and I’ve taken in as many kids as possible,” said owner Cindy Fennessey, fighting back tears.

She was shocked by the Governor’s decision Wednesday afternoon. Now she’s forced to cut the number of kids she normally has from about 70 to 50.

“But that’s not just 20 kids ’cause some of the kids come a couple of days a week so it’s going to impact more than just 20 kids,” she said.

She also has to figure out how to keep as much of her 16 person staff as she can, while also fitting the 10 person limit.

“He said no more than 10 at a time, so in other words my staff are going to work open to close because I can’t have a second staff coming in to relieve them,” Fennessey said.

“What are we going to do, have the kids unaccounted for for 5-10 minutes?”

If Fennessey, or any other child care facility owners fail to meet these restrictions, they could face imprisonment, a fine, or both.

But for much of her employees, being laid off for this indefinite amount of time means losing their only source of income.

“This is the only way I support my child so I have no clue what I’m going to do if I lose my job,” said Teacher Assistant Jessie Petrovich.

And she’d lose her job indefinitely, for the duration of the public health emergency.

“With this, it’s now undecided how long,” Fennessey said. “So do I just close the doors permanently, or do I stay open for 50 kids and 10 staff? But how do I choose?”

The order in both Wisconsin and Minnesota called for child care center owners to prioritize care for children of “essential workers,” such as first responders and healthcare providers.

That’s asking Fennessey to do something completely against her values.

“So it’s up to me to pick and choose who I feel is more important over someone else? And I can’t do that, that’s not me I would rather service everyone that I could,” she said.

And for parents that both work in the industry and utilize it, like Petrovich with her daughter, that’s a double hit.

“I haven’t really thought about it, I keep her at home with me I don’t really have anyone to watch her. So I’m not really sure what I’d do,” she said.

At the end of the day, parents and staff here say it’s a near impossible burden to put on a group of people who just want to care for kids.

“The kids we’re servicing today are our tomorrow’s future,” said Fennessey. “They’re going to be the ones making the decisions in 15-20 years from now so I’d like to be able to bring every one of them up as best as we possibly could.”

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