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Massachusetts day-care centers and Russian orphanages

By using an abundance of caution, the state’s rules for reopening day-care centers make it difficult, if not impossible, for many providers to do so, while also depriving children of the very things they need for proper development: human interaction.

Tammy Inman, who runs Little Kids now, and her mother, Diane Gummow, who founded the school in 1982.
Tammy Inman, who runs Little Kids now, and her mother, Diane Gummow, who founded the school in 1982.Tammy Inman

Tammy Inman met her husband Greg in preschool, but they took a roundabout way to a relationship, not dating until they were in their 20s.

They met at Little Kids, the day-care center in Falmouth her parents founded almost 40 years ago.

Like Sy Sperling, the Hair Club for Men pitchman, Tammy Inman didn’t just become the head of the company: she was a client. She started working at the school at 15.

“I took over the school in 2011," she said. "I run it the way my mother ran it. It’s me. You’re dealing with me. Not a corporation.”

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It was a successful business because it was run by a local family that knows how local families operate. Inman, one of six kids, emphasized hands-on attention, especially for infants and toddlers, who need a hug when mom and dad are at work.

Then the pandemic hit.

“I closed a week before the state mandated it,” Tammy Inman said. “I just wanted to be safe.”

She opted not to operate as an emergency day-care center, which restricted use to children of essential workers. Little Kids, with up to 64 kids and 17 employees, was shut down for nearly three months.

So imagine Tammy Inman’s surprise when she read the state’s new guidelines for reopening day care centers and found the maximum number of children she can place in a classroom is 10 — half the number the emergency centers were allowed. Not only do the guidelines reduce enrollment, they require more staff and space per child.

“The new regulations are more strict than during the worst of the pandemic,” she said. “That makes no sense.”

Neither do the guidelines from the state Department of Early Education and Care, which are heavy on an abundance of caution and light on the real-life experience of providers like Inman.

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Inman’s father built the school to state specifications, 35 square feet per child. Now the state says it should be a minimum 42 square feet, while 144 would be ideal to maintain social distancing.

More absurd, Inman says, is the regulation that preschoolers need to practice social distancing and wear masks.

“You can’t expect 3- and 4-year-old children to stay 6 feet away from each other,” Inman said.

Inman wants to reopen but doesn’t know if she can afford to under the current guidelines or meet those guidelines. Meanwhile, livelihoods will be further jeopardized, and parents on the Cape will scramble to find places to put their kids so they can go back to work.

One of those parents is Nikki DeiCicchi.

DeiCicchi, marketing manager at Black Dog Tavern Co., is desperate to get back to work, but can’t get her 3-year-old daughter Adele and 2-year-old son Anthony back into Little Kids where they’ve been since they were infants.

DeiCicchi read the new regulations and guffawed.

“My Anthony won’t keep his diaper on. They expect him to keep a mask on?" she said. "Look, nobody is downplaying the seriousness of the illness, but you can’t reopen the economy if working people don’t have a place to put their kids.”

DeiCicchi felt bad for Inman, and for parents who are struggling to find child care, so she put a petition online, asking people to join in demanding that the state rewrite the guidelines. By Monday afternoon, it had nearly 34,000 signatures, so Inman’s frustrations are hardly isolated.

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Tammy Inman said the thing that really troubles her is the new rules that forbid so much human interaction in her school, like hugs, playing, and field trips. She said children’s development is tied so heavily to interaction with peers and adults.

“Under these regulations," she said, "you’d be putting your kid into a prison.”

While their motives are honorable and their caution understandable, the bureaucrats didn’t consult nearly enough with people like Tammy Inman, instead deciding to leave the youngest, most vulnerable among us to develop isolated and at a distance, without the consolation of any kind of embrace.

Just what we need these days. Russian orphanages.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.