Letter to AAPS School Board On Ending After-Care
Dear Superintendent Swift and Board Trustees,
I am writing regarding the announcement at this week’s board meeting that before- and after-care will not be provided for families by the District this coming school year. As a parent with an elementary student who has relied on the District’s after-care program, I am dismayed at how this announcement was communicated, I have serious questions about the public health wisdom of this decision, and the apparent disregard the District has for the immense impact this decision will have on families and the community as a whole.
It is difficult to respond to the underlying rationale for this decision, because none was presented. I appreciate the District wanted to announce this early, but the lack of clarity about what the actual barriers are leaves many open questions.
- If the District believes it is incapable of providing this service in the very same buildings students will be in every day, what confidence should parents have that private providers will be able to overcome those same barriers and at a scale anywhere close to the demand?
- If the District believes it is possible for the private care system to meet this need, why does it believe itself incapable?
- If the District does not believe the private care system can fill the gaps, why isn’t it ringing the alarm bells clearly and loudly to the State & Federal Governments and communicating what needs to be done to make sure our kids are adequately and safely cared for?
While the District hasn’t yet presented a coherent defense of this decision, I have heard second-hand that some believe this approach will provide a public health benefit because cohorts in aftercare will be smaller. This makes no sense. Ending provision of this service will not mean fewer students will require after-care. It will just mean parents will be scrambling to send their kids elsewhere. Instead of keeping many kids in the same building around the same people they interact with every day, we will be dispersing them all over the City to whichever options parents can find. This will be mixing up cohorts of students, increasing the network connections among groups of people. Creating many more overlapping connections between student populations across schools will make tracing and containing potential outbreaks harder. This is a poor tradeoff. Making a decision to externalize the risks and costs does not absolve you of the consequences of that decision.
This announcement is also part of a pattern of communication from the District that neglects to acknowledge the real pain and difficulty District decisions will have for families. The District & Board have had to make difficult decisions this year, often in contexts far outside of your control. I have, more than once, as a parent felt that District & Board communications have been entirely indifferent to the negative impact of certain decisions, even when I recognize that decision was one among a bad set of options. Our family has had an incredibly hard year, and not a great school experience, despite the incredible efforts and abilities of teachers & staff. I have seen expressions of these experiences ignored by the District and dismissed by many in the Community, including some Trustees, as privileged whining. There has been a lot of that, too, but the indifference to real suffering in an already difficult time is still painful and has done a lot of damage to the underlying trust and solidarity we need to maintain universal social institutions like public schools.
In this case, the District seems oblivious to the fact that many parents have been unemployed for a large portion of this pandemic and have only remained somewhat financially stable thanks to extended unemployment benefits. These benefits (and the people who remain unemployed) are under attack in legislatures all over the country. Benefits are expected to end by the time school is underway in the Fall. UI benefits have been a godsend for our family (we are down a paycheck and our health care costs went up dramatically). The silver lining of this situation is UI benefits allowed one of us to be able to care for our child so we could make remote school workable. When UI ends, we will need to replace our second income stream. This means we are going to require after-school care in the fall. If we cannot be confident we can secure this care, then we will not be able to replace the lost income from UI and this will put our family in a very difficult financial position.
We are not the only family in this position facing the end of stimulus benefits and UI coverage. This decision by the District has nudged us all that much closer to the oncoming train of financial disaster. Obviously, this late-pandemic situation is not the District’s fault but given how the District has communicated about this and other decisions, I don’t believe the Board or Administration is actually concerned that our kids are cared for, or what burden this decision places on families.
At a minimum, I expect the Administration and Board to clearly articulate:
- why you believe the District cannot safely and adequately provide after-care in the coming fall
- why you think expecting kids to be mixed up across cohorts throughout the community will somehow be safer
- how and whether you see the private care system’s ability to provide care for kids who will require it
- and, if there is an anticipated gap in capacity inside or outside of the schools, to work with elected leaders at the County and State to figure out what must be done to ensure these care needs can be met without financially wrecking families. This is not just a cost question but a logistics and capacity question. If the options for care don't exist, they won't be available at any price.
Otherwise, this decision will contribute to driving a wedge in the social contract that universal public education requires, driving families of means to seek private options, families without will become increasingly financially strained, and will help accelerate the growing inequalities already present in our community.
Bach Elementary Parent