Minot Head Start downsizes as staff resign over vaccine mandates, parents left scrambling

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Some parents are scrambling to find alternative daycare arrangements for their kids after Minot Head Start announced its program is downsizing.

This comes after already being short-staffed, and the federal government’s vaccine mandates only making it worse.

As a result, the Minot Head Start program has to close the Jefferson Early Childhood Center this week.

The program’s director says this impacts the more than 116 kids in the head start and early head start programs.

“I’ve already had two rooms close since October because of staff resignations and I am closing an additional five which is the seven classrooms at Jefferson and kids and staff are going to transition over here which is breaking all of our hearts. Today and tomorrow are very hard days. We’re saying goodbye to children today and staff tomorrow,” said Karen Knowles.

The head start program is federally funded for 234 kids in seven classrooms at the Jefferson Center, but back in October staff resignations led to the closure of two of those classrooms.

As more staff members resigned, potential staff turned down job offers because of the vaccine mandate, the program has had to close the remaining five classrooms and send 100 of those kids back home.

The early start program which accepts 56 kids will now take 40. Knowles said it was tough coming to the decision to send the kids and their families away but it is very little she could do.

In order to fairly separate from the kids, she said the decision to close came from in-depth consultations with the parent board.

“Some of it was age, attendance, needs of the family whether the families were working whether there is a disability, those kinds of things went into a factor. We sat here for two days and went through every child’s file,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Knowles says home-based programs will not be affected by the downsizing but noted it wasn’t a viable option for many parents.

To fully operate she will need to hire 24 new staff by August — a task she thinks is impossible to achieve because of uncompetitive wages coupled with the vaccine mandate.

Knowles said she is unsure of how this could affect the program’s grant.

In the meantime, the public is encouraged to continue to apply to the program although priority will be given to kids affected by the downsizing.

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