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Reopening schools will increase child care needs

As the majority of local schools release their reopening plans for the first academic year back after the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, some parents and guardians are worried about the feasibility of these strategies, including what a shorter school week would mean in terms of extra child care.

Rachelle McKee, 43, of Farmville, said her 5-year-old grandson who lives with her is about to enter kindergarten at Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS). She said the pandemic was a struggle for her grandson, who had difficulties with at-home packets and understanding the nature of the health crisis.

Although Prince Edward had not announced its reopening plans as of Wednesday, July 1, most area schools included in their reopening plans a strategy of staggered in-school attendance in which half of students attend school two to three days per week and complete instruction at home the remaining weekdays.

McKee said a possible staggered schedule would turn her household upside down. She said digital work would be a difficulty for kids like her grandson who learn best face-to-face.

Despite the need for face to face learning, McKee said she is hesitant to send her grandson back to school. She worries about young children not understanding the need to socially distance themselves or practice other mitigation efforts. She said a lack of understanding of the virus may negatively impact young children’s mental health.

“They don’t understand it because they can’t see it,” she added.

She said her hope with school reopening plans is that younger children from pre-K to third grade are not asked to wear masks, as teachers may have to spend more time getting students to put their masks on rather than teaching lessons.

Phylicia Forrest, 28, of Green Bay, said she is also hesitant to send her first grader back to school, but teaching kids at home might not work either.

“My child has a learning disability, and there are some things I cannot do from home,” she added.

Susan Dowdy, 62, of Rice, is the grandparent of a seventh grader at PECPS. She said she does have safety concerns with sending kids back to school, especially with a lack of widespread testing and no vaccine.

She agreed it is difficult to decide whether or not to send students back to school, though, as there are many children who need face-to-face instruction to do well academically. She said while it should be up to individual parents/guardians to determine what is best for their children, she struggles to see the feasibility of students’ return to school in the fall.

Dowdy added that an approach in which students are home half of the week would pose a problem for many parents that will have to face the hardship of finding extra child care amidst a pandemic. Some have predicted a child care crisis is on its way to America as parents scramble to figure out how to handle the kids being home for multiple weekdays while adults are called back to work.

The Virginia Department of Social Services (DSS) released Phase 3 guidelines June 25 for the reopening of child care facilities. In Phase 3 of the state’s reopening, child care facilities are limited to group sizes of 12 people, including staff, for children under the age of 4 provided age-based ratios of children and adults are followed.

For children age 4 and up, the group size maximum is 22 including staff as long as social distancing of six feet or more is maintained. Mixing of child groups should be avoided, but children can play outside together while maintaining a distance of six feet or more.

Complete guidelines can be found at ChildCareVa.com.

According to DSS officials, the state’s child care capacity is currently at 68%. However, there are approximately 560 facilities preparing to re-open in the near future.

For many, though, asking small children to maintain distance between one another is a tall order. And with social distancing requirements, it doesn’t seem likely that many daycares or other child care facilities will be able to expand their services in the response to increased child care needs.

That may be where local babysitting services come in. Crystal Rundstrom, 20, of Cumberland, said she spent five years babysitting area children. She said she often spent extended periods of time babysitting the same children for multiple days, and that these long-term child care arrangements may be a popular option as schools reopen.

Rundstrom said she has not babysat in over a year, but has begun advertising her services in order to make extra money and help parents that need the extra hand. She said babysitting may also be the key for parents who can’t afford to quit their jobs or pay expensive daycare bills.

Child Care Aware serves as a resource for parents seeking child care information in their area. Additional information is available by visiting VAchildcare.org or by calling 1-866-KIDS-TLC for an up-to-date list of child care providers.