Miriam Dror: Decision to open up early childhood centers is misguided, dangerous

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The following letter was sent to Gov. Phil Scott on May 25:

On Thursday, May 21, the Brattleboro Reformer published a letter sent to you titled: "Early Childhood centers are not in a safe position to open." This letter had 12 pages of signatures. It is my sincere hope that you have taken this letter deeply to heart. While I respect the challenges that the Vermont offices of the government, with yourself in the leadership, are under and while I have respected many of your decisions in this very difficult process, I cannot understand or respect the directive to open up early childhood education and centers at the dates you are proposing.

I want to say at the outset that I have worked in the field of mental health as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, child/human development education, the training of counseling professionals, consulting to schools on social emotional curriculum and more, for over 50 years. My dedication to parenting, family and teacher education, supporting optimal human development, is unflinching and I believe, for good reason.

Your recent directive to early education centers to open up earlier than other educational institutions and centers, including our most advanced — our colleges and universities, is not only dangerous but unconscionable. Having been put forth, uniquely targeting the youngest and most vulnerable of our society's members, one has to question the values and principles of the very culture we are striving to uphold. To endanger the health of our youngest and those that serve them, to start up the machine of an already unequal economic design, crosses a line and begs for a thorough examination of the tenets of our culture.

To give but one example of an early education program, our Head Start programs. For over 50 years it has been dedicated to reaching into the lives of our most vulnerable families, not only supporting the healthy growth of the youngest, from birth to the age of five — emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually — but also bringing parents into that circle of education so that this comprehensive, balanced and carefully researched approach may outlast these early years of support. Moving forward with this directive will affect, I would even say desecrate, the committed intention of the mission of Head Start, in multiple ways. Not only will it set back and traumatically impact the development of our children but it will disproportionally affect low income people, people who through generations of poverty sometimes, have already compromised immune systems and weakened family structures.

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I will add that the early opening of early childhood centers clashes with the stated goal of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act and I quote:

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"This over $2 trillion economic relief package delivers on the Trump Administration's commitment to protecting the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19." (Italics added)

The Federal Center for Disease Control (CDC), also a very active agency at this time, has a definition for "public health." The following is taken directly from their website titled "United States, Public Health 101, an Educational Slide Exhibit: "Health is ... a dynamic state of complete physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity. And ... public health is what we as a society do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy."

The CDC also has a definition for trauma:

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"An event, or series of events, that causes moderate to severe stress reactions, is called a traumatic event. Traumatic events are characterized by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury or death."

I urge you to try and picture infants being held by masked and goggled caretakers; no soft toys in any classrooms or centers; preschoolers being required to stay apart; no collaborative play; no circle time; restricted meals; no hugs, no physical soothing; naps at required distances and more. Picture trying to regulate all of this, which runs so contrary to our human nature. There is no doubt that this is traumatizing for preschoolers, teachers and families alike.

Opening our classes, under these directives, steers far and away from what we know about child development and family support. In fact, it steers well in the direction of trauma, no matter how we define it, when speaking of the bodies, minds and hearts of our youngest. The human species, at its earliest stages of development, was not designed to understand what we will require of them under early opening. The teachers, as heart-felt servants of the mission of early childhood education in all that this means, are now being asked to implement the approaches required by this directive, approaches that contradict their life-long commitment to the holistic well-being of children and families. This does not serve public health, this does not serve human growth and development; I fear we will live to regret this. I urge you to look carefully at the CARES Act and find a way to support children, families and teachers while waiting to open pre-schools, coinciding with the opening of schools and colleges.

Miriam Dror is a licensed clinical mental health counselor with a Masters in human development and counseling psychology. She writes from East Dummerston. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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