In-person child care options at TSD schools draw mixed reactions from parents
By Katie Harris
Shortly after announcing that school would be fully remote through at least October, Thompson School District (TSD) reassured some parents, while baffling others, by announcing that two third party child care providers, YMCA of Northern Colorado and Boys and Girls Club-Loveland, would be offering child care at some of the district’s schools this fall.
While the announcement offered little detail in terms of how the program would run, it did list a cost: $55/day or $250/week per child for the YMCA full day program and $45/day or $135/week for the Boys and Girls Club full day program—price tags which raised eyebrows on some parents.
Multiple posts sprung up on Facebook’s Berthoud Community page in the days following the announcement expressing concern, and sometimes frustration, about the arrangement. The question asked most frequently was why the district had decided that it was unsafe for students to attend school in person this fall, but okay for them to attend the third party child care programs at the school.
In an Aug. 17 email response, TSD’s public information officer Michael Hausmann said the district is following guidance from the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment in allowing the child care programs to open while school remains remote.
“TSD is limiting the number of students in each child care program,” he said. “The safety risk with bringing 30 to 40 kids into a few sites for child care is much less than bringing 15,000 plus into our schools.”
Both the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club, on their websites, say they plan to follow guidance from all concerned state agencies to ensure the safety of their staff and clients.
“We’ll perform health checks and temperature checks every morning for kids and staff, require masks, clean all day long, and break kids into smaller cohort groups,” said Lisa Swainey, Vice President of Community Programs for YMCA of Northern Colorado. “Our safety protocols are definitely top notch and we follow every new guidance suggestion that comes up.”
Swainey said the number of kids that each site can accommodate varies by square footage available, but that the average school can have 50 to 60 kids total and 10 to 20 per classroom. She said all group sizes would adhere to state guidance.
Another concern raised by parents was the morality of taxpayer dollars being used to keep schools open while third parties utilized buildings rent-free.
Hausmann explained that both teachers and staff are still working out of the buildings in cooperation with the child care providers.
“Teachers in the fully online program monitor student progress and provide daily connection for whole groups, small groups and individual support to pre-teach or re-teach concepts,” he said.
“While school instruction looks different during this pandemic, delivering that instruction is still a primary role of the district.”
Finally, parents expressed concern over the cost of the program, saying it essentially meant that only families who could afford it would have a place to send their children this school year.
Swainey explained that the price may seem high because of all the extra personnel required at the present time to meet COVID guidelines.
“Child care costs for us have gone up considerably due to new guidance,” she explained. “We are providing curbside drop off to keep the number of people coming into our facilities low, we have staff cleaning constantly throughout the day, and we’re also looking at additional staff to support online learning right now. This isn’t an opportunity to make money for us, we’re just trying to cover our costs.”
Swainey said the YMCA accepts Colorado Child Care assistance (CCAP) and offers scholarships for families who can’t afford the care they need.
“We never turn anyone away,” she said. “We have excellent partnerships with Thompson School District and Boys and Girls Club to make sure everyone gets the help they need and that children never have to be alone without care.”
According to Hausmann, “School personnel will be reaching out to families when students aren’t engaging in the teaching and learning process to determine how to support them.”
For every post and comment expressing concern about the district’s decision, comments came in voicing gratitude for the options, saying working parents would have otherwise had no choice but to leave their kids home alone all day.
Molly Alvarado was one of those parents, a Berthoud resident and mother of two who works full time, as does her husband.
“My plan this year was for the kids to be in school fully in person,” she said. “When the district took that away until at least October I kind of panicked.”
Alvarado said she was fortunate to find a nanny share last spring when schools went remote, who took her 9-year-old and 5-year-old in a few days a week and helped her eldest with schoolwork.
“It was still a mess,” she said. “It was hard to be the parent and the teacher. We were home but we couldn’t have a free day. Instead, I was juggling running to meetings and working remotely with the kids’ schedules.”
When Alvarado found out that the in-person option she’d signed up for wouldn’t be available, she contacted the nanny from last spring immediately but found she was too late.
“She was completely booked up with kids who had already been planning on going with the remote option,” said Alvarado. “I started scrambling. I looked into pods but I didn’t want to have to depend on anyone else and didn’t want even more people depending on me.”
For Alvarado, the district’s email about the YMCA program being offered at Ivy Stockwell Elementary was a lifesaver.
“My first thought was that the price was a little steep but for the need, it was fulfilling it was doable, at least for the short term,” she said. “If schools remain remote past October I might have to look at other options, like working part-time.”
Both the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club plan to offer full-day child care for as long as school remains remote, and said they’re ready to work with the district to expand into more schools if needed.
“We have a hugely successful program, and have had no outbreaks or major issues at all since we started doing this when school went remote last spring,” said Swainey. We’re working with the district to ensure all kids are fed every day, that our staff is trained in supporting online learning, and that we are following health department guidelines. We’re in this for the long haul.”
For Alvarado, while she’s aware of the concerns expressed by other parents about the programs operating at district schools, she’s hoping that the YMCA program will create a transition for her kids between school and home and get them back into a routine.
“I felt a little like I was crossing a picket line taking my kids to Ivy that first day,” she said. “A lot of people are so upset that this program is open while schools aren’t—I’ve seen the comments on Facebook. But as parents, we have to do what we have to do.”
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