The teachers strike has prompted parents to get creative. The city is offering free care at community centers, but they're crowded. Various camps are being offered (for a fee), and some families are relying on informal arrangements with neighbors and friends.
Like a lot of Seattle parents, single mother Devona Walker is frustrated. A project manager at Accenture, she has struggled to find places for her 12-year-old son, a student at Mercer Middle School, to go during the teachers strike. Her son is too old for child care but too young for unsupervised activities.
“To be honest, I’m at a loss. We’ve been playing it by ear day to day,” she said. “You don’t know until the night before. It’s really inconvenient.”
Resource for parents
For a school-by-school list of child care alternatives, visit http://seati.ms/1FJvIEf
- Seattle parents share how they are handling their kids being out of school
- Pay varies widely for Washington state teachers
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- When courts have weighed in on teacher strikes, districts have usually won
She’s tried a variety of strategies: One day, her mother came over. On other days, she’s worked from home in the morning and dropped him off at the Boys & Girls Club in Rainier Valley in the afternoon, the only time that program is available.
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“It’s costing me a lot of headache at work,” she said. “I need to be on site. I’m a project manager — I’m the central line of communication. When I’m not here, it creates larger hiccups.”
“I’m really sympathetic to teachers,” she said, but added, “I hate this tactic every year. It’s hurting parents, not the school district.”
The teachers strike has forced parents to get creative. Some, like Kara Beauvoir, who works in the maintenance department at a nursing home, are dropping their kids off at one of the 21 community centers opened this week, serving 3,000 kids for free — at a cost to the city of roughly $20,000 a day.
The results are mixed: Beauvoir took her 7-year-old daughter to the Queen Anne Community Center, the site of her summer day camp. She described the scene of 150 kids inside the gymnasium as “chaotic.”
“Some kids seemed really freaked out. Their knees were tucked in the fetal position,” Beauvoir said. A few, she said, were crying.
“I’ll be honest, it was hard for me to leave her there, even though I feel comfortable with the staff,” she said. As the day went on, the mood calmed, according to her daughter. “[It] sounds like they are making the most of a difficult situation,” added Beauvoir.
Ginger Feretto, 30, an architect, can’t take advantage of any of the free services because her child has type 1 diabetes as well as a peanut allergy. Her child’s blood-sugar levels have to be monitored every two hours, and a trained nurse is needed to administer an EpiPen for the allergy.
So Feretto and her husband, a manager at a Barnes and Noble, have alternated using their vacation days. Feretto has used just one so far, but if the strike continues, she will have to use more of her allotted three weeks. Her husband has run out of vacation days. “He could get fired if he stayed home anymore,” she said.
Teachers with kids are experiencing a double-whammy. Kate Sipe, a teacher at Green Lake Elementary School, is a zone captain and on site starting at 7:30 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. Her husband, who works at a tech company, has an inflexible, demanding schedule and can’t take time off. Their two kids are being watched by a nanny that she shares with another family.
“It’s going to cost me several hundred dollars,” she said, more if the strike continues.
Sipe is one of the lucky parents who can afford a nanny; indeed, parents with the financial means have many options. But they aren’t cheap, especially for a longer duration. Seattle Public Theatre is running a camp for $65 a day. All Together Skate Park in Fremont charges $50 a day. Pacific Science Center is also offering a strike camp, for $375 per child per week. For $69 a day, kids can attend a workshop at School of Rock, where during class they’ll start learning to play a song.
“They are doing ‘Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ by the Rolling Stones right now,” said Jamie Leavitt, the studio coordinator. “It’s pretty cute.”
While the strike has put pressure on families, it has also brought communities together; people with time off are hosting kids at their homes, often for free, posting availability on Facebook groups.
“All of my friends are doing the same thing,” said Shawna Murphy, who runs an in-home day-care center in South Park. “One person goes to work and everyone goes to the other person’s house.”
Jayme Nimick, a freelance writer and former high-school math teacher, sensing that the strike might continue indefinitely, created a day camp.
A single mother of two girls, ages 8 and 10, she said, “I’m a freelance writer and I can get nothing done when my children are home. Which means I’m not going to get paid because I don’t have sick leave.”
The camp is held at Bustle Caffe, a Queen Anne coffee shop located next to Coe Elementary School. The cafe donated its space from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Nimick accepts 10 elementary-aged students a day. She charges $40 or barters with people who can’t afford to pay.
Murphy, the day-care operator, also has lost money; she can legally host only six children. Now that her two kids can’t go to school, she had to deny two children, causing her a loss of $300 so far, more if the strike continues.
But Murphy is an adamant supporter of the strike, taking her kids to the school and picketing with the teachers. “It was really powerful,” she said.
In the meantime, she’s home schooling her older kid, who is trying to, well, strike.
“She’s mad about that. She says, ‘I’ll go back to school when my teachers get a fair contract.’ And I said, ‘Go to work.’ ”