Seattle Public Schools will offer space for child care providers in 12 of its buildings starting this week while schools are closed in an effort to contain the novel coronavirus.
The sites will have a staggered opening, the district announced Friday. The first four will open Tuesday, though all the slots in those programs are full already. On Wednesday, three more will tentatively open, followed by five more Thursday. More sites may open at a future date. The centers will provide free breakfast and lunch every day, and priority for enrollment is reserved for children of health-care workers and low-income kids.
The program, funded almost entirely by outside organizations and philanthropy, will be staffed by employees of Boys & Girls Club, Rainier Community Center and other providers. Parents and caretakers should direct questions about enrolling in child care services to those providers, SPS says. The district also recommends Child Care Resources, a statewide referral center that helps families find and pay for support.
Child care, especially for younger kids, is an essential lifeline for those who are still expected by their employers to physically report to work. Some providers have closed over fears they might spread the virus, but others have stayed open. The state recommends child care facilities avoid activities that group more than 10 children together at a time, and that they stagger pick-up and drop-off times.
District officials shared the final plans widely on the same day they received a sharp letter from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine about their child care offerings during the closure. District spokesman Tim Robinson said the announcement of the final child care plans was unrelated to the letter.
The letter, sent just before 6 p.m. Friday, urged Superintendent Denise Juneau and School Board President Zachary DeWolf to quickly implement a plan for child care to ensure “essential workers” such as health-care professionals and first responders could continue reporting to work while schools closed. Following the directive from Gov. Jay Inslee, several other school districts had already taken the same steps.
“We need the leadership of our schools now more than ever,” the letter said. “We must fight to cut through red tape and break down barriers with speed and creativity.”
They listed the steps the city and county have taken so far to respond to the pandemic in the area, including those they claim that are not typically the responsibility of their agencies.
“No one can stand on the sidelines,” the letter stated. “Every organization and every person has a new job description: do what is needed.”
The letter also referenced the district’s still ongoing negotiations with its teachers union over what work is expected from employees during the closure.
SPS teachers aren’t currently expected to report to work inside school buildings during the closures or work as child care providers, said Michael Tamayo, the president of the Seattle Education Association union. He said management and labor are currently discussing whether school nurses could potentially offer health care at the 12 sites.
Juneau and DeWolf issued a biting response to Durkan and Constantine on Saturday, chiding the officials for taking “the low road of putting frustrations into the public” and for not calling to ask where the district was in the process of providing child care. (Chelsea Kellogg, a spokeswoman for Durkan, said the city spoke with the district about the issue Friday, and SPS hadn’t shared its plan.)
“For you to even hint that our staff and school board is not pulling our weight during this time of crisis is nonsense, and frankly, we expect better leadership from both of you,” the response read.
They listed the efforts the district took to provide free meals and academics to families last week, arguing that the district broke down barriers and had to “establish a new system of child care access and operational supports.”
On Sunday, a statement from the city said Durkan “is relieved” the district found a way to “solve this critical need during the crisis,” adding that the city will be able to “augment these efforts in a limited way using city resources.” The city did not immediately respond to a question about how much funding it would provide, and for what facet of the program.
The district says it is primarily using funding and staffing from outside sources because it can’t afford to create a child care system from scratch. The Alliance for Education, a nonprofit that raises money for Seattle schools, is footing the bill to provide breakfast to the sites.
The city did not immediately respond to a question about how the city’s $600 million education levy or existing preschool program could support the child care efforts.