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Burt apologises for attack on daycares

Backing off: David Burt, the Premier, toned down his criticism of daycare centres (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Premier has apologised to upset child daycare centre owners for an attack on them this week. David Burt said: “I’m a big enough man that I can apologise and I can say I’m sorry if I offended anyone due to the tone and nature of my comments.“I did not try to loop everyone inside of the same group and I recognise that there are different circumstances for different persons.”Mr Burt was speaking on Tuesday after he earlier advised parents of children in daycare to stop payment of fees while the businesses were closed. He also asked nursery school owners to “think about the community” as they could increase financial pressure on families already struggling during the Covid-19 crisis.Mr Burt said that it would be “wrong, immoral and unjust” for nursery schools whose staff had claimed emergency unemployment benefits to charge parents fees to hold their child’s spot while closed.But he said on Tuesday that many daycare centres were “providing some formal learning and support, and I do recognise that others are taking care of their employees”. Mr Burt added: “As you have been closed down by the Government, just like many other businesses, the relief package which will be announced tomorrow will also be there to assist you during this difficult time.” However, one parent, who asked not to be named, said that the daycare centre her two-year-old son attended had told her that he would lose his place, unless the full fees were paid. She added that many other parents had complained about the problem, but that no one had “spoken up”. The woman said: “I honestly think people are scared. I’m scared. I’m scared to use my name, I’m scared to use the school’s name.” She added that the Government had an obligation to protect the public from exploitation. The woman explained: “We’re in a crisis situation. It’s utterly ridiculous to assume that we should be paying a monthly fee for something we’re not using. “That’s putting people in a situation where we’re having to pay out tuition, rather than putting food on the table.”She said: “There are no other businesses in Bermuda that are behaving that way.”The Pembroke woman said her son went to a private kindergarten at a cost of about $1,500 a month. Nurseries and schools were closed in March to help combat the spread of Covid-19. The woman said that her son’s centre had organised two online play sessions a week on an online video application. But she said that trying to get children to take part was “a fight”. The woman explained: “We’re trying to wrangle our kids in front of a conference call.”She said that the school had also sent home a pupil packet that included colouring sheets. The woman added: “That’s it. That’s the extent of it — and I have heard that is more than some places.” She said that she contacted the school about her concerns but that the owners had decided to “bury their heads in the sand”. She added that she understood schools had fixed costs and that she was prepared to pay part of her son’s tuition, but that the school had refused to back down. The woman highlighted that the provincial government in Ontario, Canada, had issued an emergency order that made it illegal for daycare facilities, closed by Covid-19 measures, to charge parents. She said the Government either had to compensate closed nurseries or the schools needed to have their insurance plans pay out to help cover their costs. The woman added: “There should be relief, no different than relief in income, that is being provided to citizens of Bermuda that have lost their jobs. It’s the same thing.”McCartney Hart, the owner of Perform to Learn in North Street, in Hamilton, said that the preschool had been “flexible about fees”.She explained: “That is to say, whilst we haven’t demanded fees, all of our parents understand that the only way for us to pay our teachers is through enrolment fees. “Our parents value our teachers. As a result, we have seen most of our parents continue to pay, whilst some of our parents have paid what they can.” Ms Hart added: “Whilst we would love to forgive enrolment fees, if we don’t received enrolment fees we cannot pay our staff, and as a result they cannot pay their housing and other bills.”She said that pupil fees would be spent “mostly on salaries, taxes, rent, school supplies, Belco, insurance and maintenance”. Ms Hart added: “We really want to keep our teachers. We will just have to negotiate with all concerned and see where the chips fall.” She said that the school had applied for financial help from the Government for five employees.However, she added: “Only one has received assistance, which doesn’t fully cover her bills. “So all of our employees look forward to receiving payments from us as consistently as possible.”Ms Hart said that parents who had paid fees for April would have their accounts credited for when the business reopened. She added that the teachers were using video applications to provide remote activities to children. Ms Hart said that the instruction format was not ideal for children aged 1 to 4 but that “it’s our only option”.