An announcement on May 12 by AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift that school-aged childcare (SACC) will be paused for the 2021-22 school year sparked community uproar, a petition that has received more than 1100 signatures and spirited debates in Board of Education meetings.
The pause was largely due to COVID-19 safety concerns and a lack of SACC staffing, a long-time concern for childcare. Staff are hourly-paid workers and must get certification to work. Amid a national difficulty for employers to find hourly labor, the district has indicated low expectations for finding the necessary staff. Even with staff comparable to past years, the AAPS model of large-group SACC will risk COVID-19 spread, and more staff would be required in the 2021-22 school year to run a program in accordance with safety guidelines.
According to the CDC, there is evidence of COVID-19 transmission through elementary childcare settings. Guidelines warn, however, that there are significant benefits of childcare to children, working families and communities. The CDC’s guidance is not intended to supersede more local information.
“The benefits of keeping childcare programs open should be weighed against the risks posed by COVID-19 spread in the childcare program and community,” the guidelines read.
The State of Michigan provides similar safety information, but urges that, “Schools are strongly encouraged to allow childcare and after-school programming to occur in-person in school buildings.”
Parents and community members have criticized the decision for the disproportionate impact it will have on working mothers and families of color. A petition calling for the reinstatement of childcare organized by two AAPS parents, Andrea Huang and Liz Lin, garnered over 1100 signatures.
“Childcare is such a critical part of what makes life work for so many working families, especially working mothers, and especially families of color,” Lin, a member of the board of directors of Community Day Care, a local childcare non-profit, said. “And you know, we’re already coming off of this year when women and families of color have suffered so many economic losses because of not having childcare… So for this district, which claims to value equity and justice, to suddenly announce that they will not be offering before and aftercare that so many families rely on… I was shocked by it.”
Rachele Stucker, a single mother of a third-grader, will be moving her child out of the district next fall due to the pause. She has applied to three nearby districts and a private school but worries her son will not gain admission due to his Individualized Education Program and has felt overwhelmed by the change.
“I don’t sleep,” Stucker said. “My blood pressure is so high that I’ve had to go to urgent care. I really feel like I’m on the verge of losing my job. Because if I can’t work full time, then I won’t be able to continue working. It’s very stressful for my child because he sees the stress that I’m under and he feels somehow responsible for it, even though it’s not his fault.”
Swift argues that the pause will present an opportunity for the district to redesign in a more equitable way after the pandemic.
“What you will see as we begin to redesign smaller group programs, you will see a priority beginning in those areas of greatest need in our community,” Swift said. “We are also working with our community centers we see that are situated in our areas of greatest need so that we can support in strengthening after-school programming right in the community.”
In the weeks following this decision, parents have begun to organize informal childcare coops over social media and look for other options. Annette Sobocinski is the executive director of Child Care Network (CCN), a nonprofit organization helping families find childcare options.
“Use [CCN] as a resource,” Sobocinski said. “We have lots of supports that we can provide to families and so reach out. Our staff is available.”
Board Trustee Jeff Gaynor, who believes the Board should look for more solutions, believes childcare will continue to be discussed over the summer as guidelines and vaccination rates shift.
“I know at least a couple of other trustees are concerned and think that we should do all we can so I expect it’ll stay in the public view,” Gaynor said. “Of course, decisions can always be modified as things change, as time goes on.”