Layoffs, Uncertainty Ahead for Preschool Owner and Staff

CI Guest

Mar 21, 2020

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Helen Shum at if you or someone you know can help us to illustrate the on-the-ground reality for educators, families, small business owners, child health workers and others.

Allison Morton

Owner and Executive Director, Small Wonders Preschool

We are one of the first child cares in Oregon to acquire a five star quality rating. It is a point of pride that we offer high-quality early childhood education and care across two sites.

Last week was fraught with grief. I saw on our teachers’ faces their worry­—about their health, job security, and many looming unknowns.

I knew I could not ask them to return to work and so they were told to remain home for the remainder of the week with pay. This week is a previously scheduled (paid) spring break closure.

Last Tuesday, the administrative staff and I extended our services to any family in need. Of our 200-plus client families, just 22 children were present.

A classroom at Small Wonders in the Grant Park neighborhood of NE Portland. Photo courtesy of Small Wonders.
Ultimately, we found we could not balance the childcare with the health concerns of our teachers and our community. Few teachers could be reasonably expected to show up for work, we would not be mitigating exposure as deemed our social duty, and many of our client families are now facing their own immediate hardships, making it near impossible to claim April tuition payments.

That means we have to lay off our teaching teams at both of our sites in Northeast Portland—dozens of professionals who were paid well under their worth, but above industry standard. We are looking hopefully towards a May 1 date for resumption of services, but cannot say for sure. We have other obligations beyond payroll and should this crisis and closure extend beyond this time frame, the longer-term forecast looks grim.

My team and I are exhausted. I want to teach. I have supplies in a corner next to April lesson plans. I stepped back into the classroom this year, leaving the daily administrative duties to my strong and loyal team. I want to laugh and comfort my kids, but I knew that we could not sustain ourselves providing only emergency care. We want to offer consistency and routine, but the current climate does not allow for this. Our programming is fully compromised.

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