Child care issue makes online school tough for some families

E-school organizations have long said that the online model is not a fit for all students, but in some districts, that's the way the 2020-21 school year is starting.
E-school organizations have long said that the online model is not a fit for all students, but in some districts, that's the way the 2020-21 school year is starting.

Local schools’ late decisions to start the year online gave some families as little as two weeks to find a caregiver, leaving some working parents scrambling as many child care centers are already full.

A few school districts are offering special programs where otherwise idled staff will watch over a small number of students whose families couldn’t find or couldn’t afford child care. Other parents face tough situations.

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“It is a very difficult time for families to figure out how to support their children in online learning while also juggling their own work responsibilities, especially for younger children who need support and guidance and supervision,” said Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Learn to Earn Dayton, which works with schools and child care providers across Montgomery County.

About a dozen local school districts are starting the year online. Centerville, Trotwood, Tecumseh, Yellow Springs and the DECA charters started classes last week. West Carrollton and Northmont start online this week, while Dayton, Kettering, Northridge and Jefferson Twp. start remote classes Sept. 8.

Several charter schools, including the Horizon Science Academies and the three National Heritage Academy charters, have already started their school years online.

Jessica Jackson’s two boys attend NHA’s Pathway School of Discovery, which is doing online classes. Jackson and her fiance both work first shift at a manufacturing company.

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“It is hard enough to find a babysitter as is, and my babysitter doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer,” Jackson said. “I am terrified of my kids’ education and them falling behind.”

When West Carrollton school leaders addressed questions via social media about their late switch to an online first quarter, one working mom worried about not not being able to help her son during live sessions. Another woman questioned whether she’d be able to find child care in a matter of two weeks.

Common refrains were that the situation was making essential-worker parents choose between their job and educating their children — but they couldn’t stop working and still pay for rent and groceries.

Schools make an effort

Kettering and Yellow Springs schools are allowing some families to send their children to school buildings on weekdays to do their online school work. Yellow Springs calls its system Safe Centers for Online Learning. Kettering refers to it as Learning Pods for kindergarten through fifth grade.

Each district required interested families to submit a letter from their employer, confirming that they had to work and couldn’t do it from home.

Yellow Springs, which started classes Thursday, has 76 students (about 10% of district enrollment) participating, according to Superintendent Terri Holden.

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“It is the right thing to do to support parents and families, although it has been much more work than I imagined. There are many moving parts,” Holden said. “Because the role of the instructional assistant (classroom aide) doesn’t transfer well to remote work, this is a good alternate use of the district’s support staff.”

Yellow Springs’ letter to parents says those aides will make sure students can log on and follow online class schedules, provide opportunities for supervised restroom breaks, recess and lunch, and communicate with principals if issues arise.

Kettering schools spokeswoman Kari Basson said a large number of families had applied for their program by mid-week, and district officials expected to host 30-40 students at each of their eight elementary schools.

Like Yellow Springs, Kettering said students in the pods would still be taught online by their regular teachers, not by the aides monitoring them (although Yellow Springs said the aides could provide some “academic support as best they can”).

The students will have to wear masks and follow sanitizing and social distancing rules. Breakfast and lunch will be available, and busing will be provided in Kettering, but not Yellow Springs.

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“A parent or guardian who qualifies for the learning pods can also register their child for child care at the district’s established rate ($7 per hour),” Basson said. " So conceivably, a child could be in the building for the remote learning schedule (8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.) and then for child care until up to 5:30 p.m.”

Dayton schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said her district considered a similar program, but is now looking to churches and other community groups for help.

“After we talked about the social distancing and the management of a potential outbreak, we decided that at this point in time, we won’t be using that particular plan (in schools),” she said. “However, it is possible that if spread of the virus lessens, and we stay on virtual, that we could do that on the second nine weeks.”

Child care centers react

K-12 schools have been adjusting on the fly for the past six weeks, and child-care centers are moving in tandem. Jama Hardern, owner of Rainbow Years Child Care in East Dayton, said she has a big waiting list, but she’s trying to accommodate families whose kids were already signed up for after-school care, but now need the full day.

“Even people who work from home were struggling with, how do I help my kindergartener be on a Zoom and simultaneously do my job that I need to do?” Hardern said. “Some of them were like, if you can just give me a couple days (of child care), so I can really work, and then the other days (I’ll handle).”

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The other issue is how much the child care centers can help students with their online school work. Hardern said her center on Smithville Road might have students from Kettering, Dayton, Mad River and charter schools, all with different teachers, grade levels and online platforms, and a variety of live and recorded sessions.

A single student may have to bounce back and forth during the day from their regular teacher, to a speech therapist, to a special education teacher.

“The younger ones, it’s very confusing for them, they’re not able to navigate it themselves as easily,” she said.

Hardern said she kept her center at nine students per staff member rather than increasing to the higher allowed ratios because of how hands-on staff might have to be. Rainbow Years teachers who worked with the first round of online school in the spring are planning for improvements now, but Hardern is realistic.

“It’s definitely going to be a learning experience for everyone, and I told families the responsibility for this year’s education falls to the student, the teacher and the parent,” she said. “We’re here to support as well as we can.”

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Lightcap said child care providers are doing their best to support their families, but in some cases, it’s not financially feasible to take on more kids.

“The state released the guidelines allowing child care providers to accept school age children during the day, but for those on publicly funded child care, the reimbursement rate (for the centers) is quite low,” she said. “So it is challenging for child care providers to make the math work.”

Doing their best

Jackson, the Pathway School parent, echoed the West Carrollton families in saying she felt like she was presented with an unfair choice between working her job — in part to be able to close on a new house — and staying home to help her first grader, who struggled with online learning in the spring.

“I understand giving parents the option to home-school, but what about the ones who don’t have an option?” she said.

David Elliott works in law enforcement and his wife works in health care. Elliott urged Kettering’s school board this month to keep their in-school option, saying his young son regressed during online learning in the spring.

“I’m going to take that on the chin as being a bad parent, because my wife and I have full-time jobs, we were essential workers and didn’t have days off,” Elliott said. “We were at work (as much) or even more than before. And thus the education of our child took a back seat. I’m embarrassed to admit that to you, but it did. So my plea to you is that my child … I want them in school.”

LOCAL SCHOOLS/DISTRICTS THAT HAVE NOT STARTED YET

Schools offering a choice of 100% in-person or 100% online

Tipp City: Aug. 31 start

Eaton: Aug. 31-Sept. 1 start

Fairborn: Sept. 8 start

Piqua: Sept. 8 start

Bradford: Sept. 8 start

Milton-Union: Sept. 8 start

Miamisburg: Sept. 8 start

Franklin: Sept. 8 start

Carlisle: Sept. 8 start

Wayne Local: Sept. 8 start

Springboro: Sept. 8-11 start

Schools going fully online for at least the first quarter

Northmont: Sept. 1 start

Kettering: Sept. 8 start

Dayton: Sept. 8 start

Northridge: Sept. 8 start

Jefferson Twp.: Sept. 8 start

Imagine Klepinger: Sept. 8 start

Others

New Lebanon: Aug. 31 start, had choice of fully online school or a hybrid with 2 days per week in-person and the rest online.

Troy: Sept. 8 start, choice between 100% online and adjustable model. Adjustable in-person model is currently set for full five days per week.

Valley View: Sept. 8-9 start, had choice of fully online school or a hybrid with 1-2 days per week in-person and the rest online.

Mad River: Sept. 8-9 start, had choice of fully online school or a hybrid with 2-3 days per week in-person and the rest online.

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