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As School Begins, Childcare Providers And Parents Navigate New Uncertainty, Challenges

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Students in Baldwinsville will be going to school in person for three days and then having three days of school online. Jamesville-Dewitt will have kindergarteners and first graders in school each day, but grades 2 through 12 in a hybrid model. And all 20,000 students in Syracuse City Schools will learn remotely until the beginning of October.

None of these plans is how schools started a year ago. 

So that leaves parents to answer the question: What kind of child care do I need, how do I get it, and is it safe?

But childcare providers share in their uncertainty. Commissioner of Onondaga County Social Services Sarah Merrick says the school and childcare landscape has been changing so rapidly and there are still many variables as the school year begins. 

“Even if we asked the questions six weeks ago, I think the answers are different now,” said Merrick. “I mean, I’m hearing you, I’m hearing the parents in the forum. You guys haven’t made your decisions. You’re not really sure.” 

Parents are also concerned there is not enough public outreach for the diverse Central New York Community to understand how to safely bring kids back to shared spaces like schools and daycare centers. 

Risk for COVID-19 in Onondaga County still exists, but remains relatively low with an infection rate of under 1% for weeks now. Executive Director of Child Care Solutions Lori Schakow says daycare centers have even lower risks of spread than schools do.

“Parents that are fearful of sending their kids to school shouldn't necessarily have the same fears about daycare because childcare has always, the registered and licensed programs, has always had very stringent requirements and strict protocols about infection control. I would say registered and licensed child care is going to be your safest option of where to put your children.”

And new research supports Schakow’s claim. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control found that the opening of childcare centers in Rhode Island in June and July did not contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. 

But the search for registered affordable child care programs is not an easy one. Shackow said around 80% of daycare slots are full, and many school and church based programs have closed. 

Assembleymembers Al Stirpe and Bill Magnarelli along with State Senator Rachel May are asking New York State to release $69 million in federal funding for childcare from the CARES Act. But whether new funding is awarded or released, Central New York parents and childcare workers will be navigating the difficult reality of childcare during a pandemic.