Now that Bloomington-Normal's public school districts have decided to begin the school year with remote learning, parents and educators have begun to scramble to arrange for child care for working parents.
In a statement Thursday, Unit 5 a said it is exploring multiple partnerships to offer day camp settings, including with the Town of Normal Parks and Recreation Department, the Children’s Discovery Museum, and the YMCA.
District 87 said it’s still in the conversation stages in planning resources for children who will need daytime supervision while their parents are working.
“We're exploring options with community groups like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club. That's something we're working on today and early next week,” said District 87 Community Relations Coordinator Julia Perez.
Some of the day camp settings could be in Unit 5 buildings, Unit 5 Board President Amy Roser said on Friday. The district cautioned that not all schools would be used for this purpose, raising the prospect that students could be in a school building attending school online in classes taught by a teacher who is at home.
It also raises the question of how day camp providers will keep children safe when Unit 5 listed the difficulty of securing safety as one of the reasons to begin the fall term learning online.
“The benefit is that in using our facilities, we will have drastically reduced the number of people in the building. When the daycare services are being operated in Unit 5 facilities, it is at significantly reduced capacity,” said Roser.
Roser said children would have ample room to spread out, social distance and be involved in a variety of activities to stay engaged.
For parents who cannot take advantage of a day camp situation, she said Unit 5 still hopes to be flexible enough to help families make it work.
“Our students who have a working parent, who may miss a lesson due to a particular circumstance being at daycare or having a working parent that can’t help them, our intention is to provide recordings of those lessons so that students at the elementary levels in particular can watch and pick up that learning at new times,” said Roser.
Scope of the challenge
At this point, it's hard to say exactly how many children will need day camp provisions. WGLT estimates the maximum number of children needing daytime care is not more than 13,000.
About 15,000 of the 18,000 school aged children in Unit5 and District 87 are between the ages of 5 and 14. That is the age range in which parents would not usually leave kids alone in the house. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates 64% of American families have both parents working. And 23% are single-parent households. Those two categories leave about 13,000 children.
But many parents are working from home right now and could oversee children who are in school on their computer. Other families have parents who work different shifts. Still others may have family members who can help.
Much remains in flux.
Normal Parks and Recreation Director Doug Damery said his team is hitting the ground running to get a plan in place early next week, but no details have been hashed out yet. He said the town needs to figure out what level of staffing tit is able to offer, as well as how to keep their employees and the children involved safe.
Damery noted the clock is ticking, with the start of the fall semester still slated for Aug. 24.
All concerned hope the pandemic numbers will turn around, with diligence to best practices limiting the spread of the virus.
Roser said the district will be watching closely and carefully.
“We anticipate there will be some schools (elsewhere) that will be open and in-person during this time frame, and so we hope that in nine weeks we can look to see what they did and how it works; what was successful, what kept their students safe and how we can replicate that in Unit 5,” said Roser.
She said the district also will continue to monitor COVID-19 case counts and the positivity rate locally and in Illinois, and public health expert advice.
Roser added remote learning for the fall will look and be substantially different than it is in the spring.
“There will be more expectations. There will be more content. It will be more elaborate than it was in the spring,” she said, acknowledging this is an emotional and stressful time with many remaining uncertainties and urging everyone to use the safety precautions stressed by health experts.
Roser said she asks people, as hard as it might be, to look on this as a learning experience, a time to reflect on their lives, what they appreciate about family and the things that are important to them.
“We will get through this," she said. "We will come out of this on the other end stronger. Through adversity we learn powerful life lessons that we can take with us and use in other ways.”
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