Working parents will have child care relief if Knox County Schools goes “red” — meaning the district switches to virtual learning — under a new plan approved by Superintendent Bob Thomas.
The district has decided to let after-school care providers offer child care during the school day in district buildings when a school or the entire district goes “red,” Thomas told Knox News.
Keeping open options for students to be supervised in schools, even if regular classroom learning is not occurring, is “important, again, for families who work,” Thomas said.
If only one class or grade level at a school goes “red,” the after-school program would not be able to offer school-hours care to the unaffected children in that class or grade because the rest of the school would still be operating as normal.
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Since the reopening plan was released July 15, the district has faced criticism about where children of teachers and other working parents would go if the district went virtual. Teachers would still be expected to teach while their kids were home also learning virtually, which requires assistance for kids in most grade levels.
This plan could help alleviate the problems if students can be enrolled in child care during school hours.
The Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley has four after-school programs based in KCS buildings.
Bart McFadden, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club, said the district’s decision will allow those clubs to continue serving 200-250 students in a familiar environment, if it becomes necessary. The organization offered summer programming that required masks, social distancing, small groups, hourly cleaning and multiple temperature checks.
“All the safety procedures you see at schools, we’re doing that, we’re actually going a step further,” McFadden said.
Earlier this summer, Muse Knoxville offered space for virtual learning pods. In late July, Executive Director Ellie Kittrell said if the district decided to go “red,” Muse Knoxville would try to expand to other locations to serve more people, including local teachers’ children.
Working parents have had to put together child care plans since mid-March, when the district and schools across the state were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
When parents had to decide this summer whether to commit their children to in-person or virtual learning, families wrestled with questions about safety, but also logistical concerns about child care.
These concerns carried over once approximately 41,000 of the school system’s nearly 60,000 students returned to in-class learning Aug. 24.
“Working parents’ schedules are not going to change. They still need to be able to work,” McFadden said.
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With the district signing off on in-school care by providers who already operate on site, families can be sure, McFadden said, “their kids have a safe place to go (that) allows them to function more seamlessly into what could be a very uncertain time.”
Additionally, through the end of the year, all clubs’ programming will be free for families McFadden said.
Kids Place, Inc. offers after-school programs at nine Knox County Schools, according to Gibbs Elementary School Kids Place, Inc. coordinator Morgan Reed.
She said final details about what her program is prepared to offer haven’t been finalized, but she hopes to have the program running from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. if KCS goes “red,” and have small group activities, similar to the Kids Place summer program.
“We’re just excited to help parents that are working,” Reed said. “Our program is allowing us to be there for parents when they need us.”
Thrive has an after-school program at Lonsdale Elementary, and Executive Director Clayton Wood said the district’s decision is a huge help for families who can’t stay home with their kids because of jobs or other circumstances.
“We are thankful for the opportunity to continue to provide free child care for families who are in desperate need for it,” Wood said.
Wood said Thrive had seven weeks of summer programming that required social distancing, masks and other CDC guidelines.
“It gave us confidence going into the fall that we can care for the kids without having an outbreak,” Wood said.
As of Friday, there are 50 active cases at Knox County Schools, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. There are a total of 662 people in isolation or quarantine.
The dashboard also includes information about district metrics for student attendance, teacher and school staff attendance, bus service interruption, cafeteria staff attendance, custodial staff attendance and the availability of substitute teachers.
Those categories are color-coded green, yellow or red to indicate how well the district is doing in each.
As of Friday, all of those markers are green except custodial staff attendance (yellow) and substitute availability (red).
Isabel Lohman reports on children — their education, health, welfare and opportunities. Follow her on Twitter @isalohgo. Make our community, our society and our republic stronger by supporting robust local journalism. Subscribe to Knox News at knoxnews.com/subscribe.