The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) will not be reopening a school to provide day care for the children of essential employees in the district after a staff survey showed that only five staffers would be able to staff a day care as volunteers.
HUUSD Superintendent Brigid Nease explained that she polled employees and families in the district via surveys and has concluded it is not possible. In between Governor Phil Scott’s March 19 missive calling for schools to provide day care for essential employees and Nease’s March 22 response to the community, the Vermont-NEA (VNEA) and the Scott administration worked on a modification that would allow school district employees to work in day cares for essential workers, along with community volunteers.
Scott asked schools to provide child care for students age 6 through eighth grade that provides meals, groups of no more than 10 in classrooms with the application of social distancing, and support of the continuous learning plans for these students, essentially providing their home schooling.
After receiving that directive, Nease reached out to staff and families about providing day care. That email raised immediate concerns for educators, according to Greg Shepler, co-principal of the Harwood Unified Education Association.
“We wanted some time to have VNEA work with the administration,” Shepler said.
He said members were relieved at Nease’s and the HUUSD’s initial take-it-slow approach to responding to Scott’s directive.
“Members were relieved. We are comfortable with how the process worked in this case and we’re happy with how the superintendent dealt with this. This is the type of situation that Brigid does really well. When there’s an emergency and need someone to lead, she can and does,” Shepler added.
After hearing from educators and essential workers, Nease, in an evening email to the district on March 22, laid out what she learned from staff and her reservations about going forward with opening a school for day care.
She pointed out that educators are also essential personnel who are now teaching remotely while home schooling their own children. Secondly, she said that most staff fall into an exempt category prohibiting them from coming to work. Exempt categories:
- Educators or staff with compromised immune conditions or other health conditions that would put them at unreasonable risk.
- Educators or staff who reside with someone with a compromised immune condition.
- Educators or staff suffering from anxiety and related mental health conditions.
- Expectant educators or staff.
- Educators or staff with infants.
- Educators or staff over 60.
FLATTENING THE CURVE
The vast majority of staff believes in flattening the curve and are isolating at home and practicing social distancing, Nease said. Furthermore, she said there were very real issues about a lack of protective gear, shrinking supplies of cleaning products, getting young children to stay 6 feet apart from each other and staff, and concerns by educators that they’d be exposing their own children by teaching.
Nease said surveys showed one family in the district in need of care for children of essential workers. Initially she had anticipated 20 families needing such care.
“Parents indicate reluctance to bring their students into a group setting, requesting care in their homes if possible. Parents indicate they presently have child care but worry that if the situation goes on for weeks or months they may need care in the future,” Nease explained.
Nease said that Scott’s revised requirement that districts attempt to offer day care allows districts to seek volunteers from educators and staff and community volunteers if necessary. Community volunteers must undergo background checks, something Nease said she doesn’t have the ability or staff to conduct currently.
“I believe we have a community problem that will likely grow over the next several months as we fight this pandemic together. It requires a community solution. We need to do everything we can to support essential personnel in our community to obtain reliable child care. I do believe it should be one family at a time,” she said, noting that there are many high school and college students willing to provide child care and said she felt that could be arranged on social media.