After some discussion at Champlain Township’s most recent meeting, council decided that the municipal summer camp will not take place this year.
As councillors reviewed the possibility on June 11 of hosting its summer camp, directives from the province had been released only two days earlier, pointed out Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Burroughs.
Burroughs said that the 10 pages of guidelines emphasized 10-person cohorts, or groups — if the camp were to proceed and that eight of those would be children while two would have to be staff members. With only the possibility of two rooms to host the camp, Burroughs reported to council that enrollment would be limited to 16 children.
“We could increase the groups if people could physically distance,” Burroughs said, explaining that all surfaces would have to be cleaned and the entire room would have to be sanitized several times per day, not to mention that toilets and all the surfaces in a washroom would have to be sanitized after each use.
Each cohort would have to keep to itself, with no sharing or mixing of toys or materials, Burroughs said.
Although the outdoor park facilities could be used, the use of these facilities which are regularly opened to the public, like the splash pad, would have to be restricted to camp attendees, or there would have to be defined times of use for the camp attendees.
Burroughs said that the idea of 16 children wearing masks all day, with COVID regulations posted everywhere and field trips not happening was not her idea of the kind of camp she wanted to hold.
“I know there is the financial aspect,” Burroughs said, but there is also the risk.
“Can I do it? Yes. Do I feel comfortable doing it? No,” Burroughs said.
L’Orignal ward councillor Jacques Lacelle said he was against the camp. “If one has it and gives it to another . . . . I’m against it,” he said.
Vankleek Hill councillor Peter Barton said he appreciated the challenges but said that there were a number of people who “desperately rely on the service. “If we don’t do this, they are going to have to find day care. And will it be licensed?” Barton asked.
Burroughs reiterated that the summer camp was not a day care and that there would also be issues in choosing just 16 applicants when for the past few years, the camp has accepted 40 children.
Burroughs said she had even explored working with the Vankleek Hill Music Festival, which offers a music and arts camp each year.
In speaking with organizer Ian Hepburn, she related that the music and arts camp had been thinking about doing its camp outdoors at the fairgrounds. But Burroughs said when she spoke with the township’s insurer, the answer was this was not a good year for partnerships.
Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel said it would be putting the township at risk.
In the end, L’Orignal councillor André Roy made a motion to defer the summer camp until 2021; council approved the motion unanimously.
On the other hand, given similar challenges facing the municipal day care re-opening, council ended up voting to re-open the day care facility. Only L’Orignal councillor Jacques Lacelle voted against the motion to re-open.
Day Care Director Jennifer Drury outlined many of the same practices that had been mentioned by Burroughs.
“We received the directives on June 9, saying we could reopen Friday, June 12.
“We have the same ratios — 10 per group including employees. For us, that will be five toddlers and two employees, or eight pre-schoolers with two employees. And we have to give staff breaks and time for lunch,” Drury said.
She explained that a welcoming person would have to take children’s temperature and do the screening and mentioned that parents would not be permitted to go inside the day care.
“We will have to have someone there to wipe down surfaces and wash toys,” she added.
“I know there are financial issues and there are some children who may not be coming back right now,” Drury said, referring to children who have confirmed, booked spaces. She expressed concern that if those spots are filled by other parents whose children need day care, what would happen when the situation changes and the original children want to return. Will their guaranteed spots not be there for them?
Since receiving the provincial directives, Drury said that between Tuesday and Thursday night’s council meeting, she had come up with most of the policies needed to re-open.
“But I would like your input,” she said.
West Hawkesbury Councillor Gerry Miner asked if staff had agreed to come back to work and Drury answered that yes, staff were prepared to return to work.
It was Miner’s opinion that the township has a responsibility to re-open the day care.
“This is a service that we offer. We may need to make an extra effort and it may create a deficit, but it is part of our responsibility,” said Miner.
West Hawkesbury Councillor Sarah Bigelow agreed.
“People have been called back to work and they can’t go. It will be difficult thing to get going but we need to get people back to work and we need to get our township employees back to work,” Bigelow said.
André Roy asked Drury for her recommendation.
“I’m not a doctor,” she said. “I don’t want to open too quick. I have worries,” Drury said, adding, “I’m ready to do it but my worries are about the safety of the kids and the staff. Are we responsible? As for me personally, I have worries, but I’ll do what I have to do,” she ended.
The mayor returned to the notion of liability, asking if the township was putting itself at risk. “We’ve been doing so well for the last three months. Are we willing to make a little bit of changes in our lives to accommodate the risk of not contaminating our neighbours? As a mayor, I have a responsibility toward my citizens. As councillors, you have the same responsibility. Should we put our citizens at risk? That’s my question.”
“This has been approved by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and the Ontario health unit and if parents feel comfortable sending their children to the day care then we should be comfortable accepting them,” said Vankleek Hill Councillor Troy Carkner.
“My question is: Are we liable if something should happen? Are you willing to sign the cheque, Mr. Carkner?” Riopel replied.
“We’re actually in discussions with the insurance and the school board and it’s not that cut and dried,” Drury said.
“I get where you’re going with the liability, and you don’t want to put people at risk, but people know there’s a risk. We have COVID-19 forms in everything that you have to sign. There’s forms that you can do for everything,” Bigelow said, giving the example of her (real estate) work where clients visiting a home that is for sale have to sign a form prior to the visit.
“Can we live in fear forever with this and feel that the liability is gong to fall on us all of the time? I think we have to move forward . . . and do this for our community,” Bigelow said.
Drury had earlier mentioned that schools were closed until the fall and that space in the École St-Grégoire school which is leased by the township was limited, in that the township could not acquire more space for the day care.
In response to Biglow, Drury said she was ready, willing and able to do it, but mentioned that schools are closed until September and universities and colleges won’t be operating until January 2021.
If there was an outbreak, Drury said, it would make her sad.
“I saw pictures of emergency day care and there were x’s on the floor and the children had to play two feet apart and they’re little babies. We can’t hold them in our arms and we’ll be wearing PPE.”
“Like I said, it’s totally doable … but it’s something that keeps me up at night, to be honest,” Drury said.
Miner pointed out that students at schools and universities have alternatives, like online learning. But the day care service cannot be provided online. Miner told Drury that he respected the personnel and their decisions, but he still believed strongly that the service was needed.
A final issue was raised by township treasure Kevin Tessier, who referred to the need for a resolution to authorize a possible deficit related to the day care facility. Two scenarios: one with a $50,000 deficit and one with a $22,000 deficit, had been presented to council.
All voted in favour of proceeding, with the exception of L’Orignal councillor Jacques Lacelle and Longueuil Councillor Violaine Tittley.
The day care discussion begins at one hour, eight minutes into the video recording of the meeting.