Student Masks. (Photo: Provided photo.)
As school officials chalk up plans for students to learn off-site, in schools or both this fall, child care providers in Greater Cincinnati are working to create more safe spaces and care scenarios for kids.
And they’re doing it under pressure.
School plans are iffy, so solutions must be fluid. Care centers are already working with their own coronavirus pandemic guidelines for young children, often with crippling costs.
“We are in the midst of a tornado, and we’re trying to figure out how to educate in the middle of it. The tornado is COVID-19. It is not letting up,” said Jorge Perez, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Cincinnati.
“The systems are in flux. We are going to have to be speedy. We are going to need additional funding.”
That need was expressed nationwide among child care providers who took part in a survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children released in July. In Ohio, 48% of child care centers responding said they are certain that, without additional public assistance, they will close permanently. In Kentucky, 69% said the same.
Yet more kids – especially school-age children – will need adult supervision while they learn remotely this fall as their parents work. Some will need all-day supervision. Others will need after-school care. School clubs might be out as an option, and gathering at a neighbor’s home could be risky now, too.
North College Hill High School math teacher, Jason Gregory, 33, grades papers as he waits for students to come pick up their packets so they can continue their schooling from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Phil Didion)
Cincinnati Public Schools plans to start the school year with a “blended” schedule, alternating students’ days in its buildings with their time learning elsewhere, online. That helps keep kids safe, allowing physical distancing with fewer kids in any building at one time.
In Kentucky, Newport Independent Schools has a similar, “hybrid,” learning plan. On Wednesdays, the buildings will close for deep cleaning. Kids will be in school Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday and will learn virtually on Wednesdays.
More: Coronavirus: School reopening plans across Cincinnati area change as COVID-19 threat lurks
And, as with several area districts in the region, parents may opt to have their children do all distance learning instead of ever entering a school building this year.
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The intricate child care needs come after child care centers cut enrollment to meet social distancing requirements.
Some relief is coming from that. On Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine said that, beginning Aug. 9, child care providers in Ohio can return to their normal class sizes and staffing ratios. The child care providers, DeWine said, will have a choice. They can maintain their lower capacity and receive a government subsidy or they can go back to normal and not receive one.
Even so, the new demands for child care come as providers face new costs of personal protection equipment, thermometers, cleaning products, cleaners’ hours and supplies for each child that once were shared. And more.
Amir Morris works on a craft at the Carl H. Lindner YMCA children’s program. (Photo: Provided) Child advocates build care options
The region’s YMCA and Learning Grove centers, which offer child care through the region, and other care providers have been meeting for weeks to hammer out systems that cover any scenario of need.
Here are a few options that will be in play when school starts:Stay after school: Some kids will be kept in their schools, limiting transportation, and may be under the eyes of paraprofessionals brought to their classroom.Daylong supervision: Some kids who are learning remotely will get supervision at child care centers, with an academic morning (as they work online) and an enrichment-oriented afternoon.Nontraditional care centers: Some libraries, churches and museums likely will offer space for child care.Outside organizations: Some kids from Cincinnati Public Schools (or other surrounding districts) may spend time with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati or in Cincinnati Recreation Center programs.
Trish Kitchell, YMCA of Greater Cincinnati’s vice president of youth development, said that community-based organizations and schools have stepped forward to help find solutions.
“The challenging puzzle to figure out is when school districts have students coming for some days but not all days of the week,” said Shannon Starkey-Taylor, CEO of Learning Grove child care centers.Costs spiral for child care centers
The costs of pandemic care already have piled up on child care centers. They worry about their futures even as they make plans for this fall.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s survey of child care providers’ report, among other findings, shows:In Ohio, 93% of child care centers responding said they’re paying more for cleaning supplies; 66% for staff; and 84% for personal protective equipment.Also in Ohio, 65% of programs have had furloughs, pay cuts, or layoffs.In Kentucky, 98% are paying more for cleaning supplies; 86% for staff; and 93% for personal protective equipment. And in Kentucky, 79% have engaged in furlough, pay cuts, or layoffs.
A Lakewood Public Schools custodian cleans up a desk set up with an acrylic shield for in-person evaluations for incoming students with special needs. (Photo: Courtesy of the Lakewood Board of Education)
New care sites may be added, to help accommodate greater space needs for kids this fall. But it might not be an easy addition to the equation. It can take 60 to 90 days to get the pandemic care license, said Kitchell. To try to address the issue, YMCA and other child advocates are working at the state level with a governor’s task force to fast-track such licenses.Parents: Look for child care now
The child advocates say that now is the time for parents to start figuring out a child-care strategy – even if their kids’ school district hasn’t finalized back-to-school plans.
“Parents need to be more active than they have been,” Perez said.
Providers suggest reaching out to previous caregivers or forming a group with other parents on social media to share ideas for school-year child care.
Newport Independent Schools Superintendent Tony Watts agreed: “If you have had some reliable child care services in the past, contact them. Make sure that they’re serving the kids.”
He said Newport school officials will do whatever is possible to help with care, but the district just finished its academic plan last week and hadn’t yet broached out-of-school child care issues.
Rose Curtin, left, looks over Haddasha Revely-Curtin’s shoulder while she does school work, Thursday, April 2, 2020, in Newport, Ky. Haddasha, 12, is a sixth-grade student at Newport Intermediate School. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer) Employers encouraged to work with parents
The care providers recommend, too, that parents approach their employers about flexibility in scheduling in case they need to stay home to care for school-aged or younger children.
It’s a familiar request, which employers faced in March when state governors shut down schools to try to dampen COVID-19 outbreaks.
The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce found, through a survey in May, that 30% of its members said child care was a barrier to having employees return to work.
“What schools are planning to do has a tremendous impact on employees and employers,” chamber President Brent Cooper said. “Our advice to the employers has been to ask them to be as flexible as possible and to continue to work with their employees who are parents.”
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Innovation Center encourages employers to listen to employee needs and concerns, said Audrey Treasure, its vice president and executive director, “and to be flexible and creative in considering new policies” that would help employees work while caring for families.”
Treasure also reminded that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights expanded leave for families through December 2020.
The act allows up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular pay rate those whose care provider or school is closed because of COVID-19. The rule applies to workers who’ve been employed at least 30 calendar days. Details are on the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s website.
Child care leaders in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area said that despite all of the complications of getting kids’ care covered this fall, they remain confident they’ll do it – with community-wide help.
“The reality is, we have dealt with difficult times in Cincinnati before, and we’ll figure it out,” Perez said. “But we can’t underestimate the challenge we have in front of us.”
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