MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Since Montgomery County Public Schools announced a virtual start, the big worry on many parents' minds has been child care. What will they do if they can't work from home?
Some providers, like Kids After Hours, have been working with MCPS and the county to offer in-school child care to certain students to ease the burden on parents.
“I think child care right now is probably more important than regular times," Bob Sickels, owner of Kids After Hours, said. "The idea that we can get kids out of their house, away from staring at their iPads…being able to act like a kid again is unbelievably important. They might be able to teach kids distantly. But they can’t teach friendship that way, and that’s really important, and that’s where we can really help.”
Kids After Hours has been providing before and after school care as well as summer camps in Montgomery County for decades. Sickels said they used to have 2,500 kids attending their summer programs a week. The pandemic has slashed that number to 240.
Staff has also been slashed from 300 to 75. But, they're preparing the crew they do have to pivot to full-day child care this fall.
Many parents wondered why child care providers could be in the classroom if the county health officer said it wasn't safe for schools to reopen their doors to in-person learning.
“It’s completely different us having 30 kids in school than the school trying to have 300 kids in the school," Sickels said. "One, we don’t have to worry about the transportation problems of a bunch of kids getting on the bus and then going to 12 different groups. It’s real simple, kids are going to pull up, we’ll take their temperature at the car. They’re assigned to one specific group. We’ll be able to keep one specific cohort for as long as we need to."
Parents like Erin Clott rejoiced when she heard child care would be open.
“Child care definitely is very hard, especially because I can’t work from home," Clott said. "I own a salon, and work around the clock, especially now during COVID time, so I don’t have the privilege to be able to work from home and be with him to help him learn."
Clott has a rising second grader, whom she has already signed up for Kids After Hours' in-school services this fall.
“Having [child care] was a blessing. It really helped us," she said. "It was a relief that they would be able to offer it, that he’ll be able to be with other kids. They’ll have people there to help them, it'll be interactive and it’s safe. They wear the masks. They take their temperatures. I feel very comfortable sending him.”
Sickels said the plan is to start operating out of two to four classrooms per school in 24 schools. Each cohort will have two counselors with 13 students.
He said Kids After Hours is one of multiple providers working with MCPS. In total, child care will be offered in 120 schools to start, Sickels said. He said the school system gave them an estimated start date of Sept. 14 -- two weeks after the start of classes.
MCPS said they are still working on coordinating in-school child care services and special education programs and plan to release more information to families in the next couple weeks.
A spokesperson sent WUSA 9 this statement:
"We have been working closely with state and county officials to determine the scope of in person activities that can be safely implemented in school buildings while maintaining public health and safety guidelines. We are making progress in understanding how supports or services for limited numbers of students could be implemented. We will continue this planning and share more information in the coming weeks with our community around services for specific special education programs and for small numbers of school-aged child care that may be able to operate in MCPS school buildings later this fall. An important factor for school-aged child care will be flexibility in licensing requirements for space. As a reminder, licensing is not managed by MCPS. It is managed by the Maryland State Department of Education. We are also working with the Maryland State Department of Education to discuss this possibility and working with county government to identify public spaces for child care other than schools buildings to increase availability of supports for families."
Sickels said their services as a licensed child care provider are critical to families who receive vouchers for assistance.
"Anyone who gets any kind of social service vouchers or working parents assistance vouchers, they only work for licensed child care providers, so really our drive is to be able to help the folks most in need," he said. "It has to be licensed child care, and the schools are the ideal place to do it."
Another of his concerns is the cost. He said the cost for full-day care is double what parents are used to paying for before and after school care during a normal year.
Sickels said Kids After Hours just became a 501-c3, so they're hoping that helps them secure more grants and scholarships to help parents pay for their services.
For now, they're focused on training staff to be ready in their expanded roles.
“Normally the week before school we take for staff trainings…it’s more our fun planning curricuclium sort of thing," he said. "Now, it’s how are we going to be safe. What do we need to sanitize? How are we taking the temperature? When are we sending kids home? Everything, do kids have to wear a mask if they’re here or there or inside? So it’s going to take a lot of time to get everyone on board, make sure every one is aware that this is important and why it’s important, and also how does that fit in the school."
The first day of school for MCPS students is Aug. 31.