Ann Arbor Public Schools has faced backlash from parents after deciding not to offer 'School Age Child Care' for the 2021-2022 school year. Dominick Sokotoff/Daily. Buy this photo.

Dr. Jeanice Swift, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS), announced on May 13 that the School Age Child Care program (SACC) will not be offered during the 2021-2022 school year. According to AAPS, SACC is a state-licensed child care program designed to meet the needs of working parents by offering planned and supervised activities before and after school .

This decision stunned AAPS parents and was met with immediate backlash. AAPS parents Liz Lin and Andrea Huang co-authored a petition to resume the program. The petition currently has over 1100 signatures from parents in the AAPS district.

While AAPS has been operating under a hybrid teaching mode since May 3, the childcare program has not been available. Some parents have been making their plans to return to work around the assumption that SACC would be available for their young children.  

“We planned on me staying home until school resumed this fall,” AAPS parent David Hanss said. “Now, we’re in a position where we may have to hire a babysitter or nanny for before and after school. Getting a job and not knowing how we’ll handle childcare will be difficult.”

During a May 13 community information session, Swift said there was currently no plan for hybrid instruction in AAPS programming for Fall 2021, as early childhood education through 12th grade will return to full, in-school learning and activities five days per week.

In a May 14 superintendent update to the AAPS community, Swift said the two main factors in the decision to not offer childcare were concerns of the COVID-related complications of the large group nature of SACC and a staffing shortage.

“AAPS has used a large group model for childcare, with students in the cafeteria or gym, which is not a COVID safe model that will work well for children this fall,” Swift said. “Staffing such a large program has presented a challenge for several years, now exacerbated by COVID.”

A shortage of child care workers has been a nationwide problem, exacerbated by the pandemic. AAPS did not post any openings for these positions to help alleviate this concern in preparation for the fall.

The capacity limitations that Swift said are a main concern for SACC operation have been revised by both the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the State of Michigan. CDC data for Washtenaw County shows a consistent downward trend of new COVID-19 cases, and provides guidelines about how childcare programs can operate safely.

Last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said there will be no limit on the number of people for indoor gatherings as of July 1st. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) has provided guidelines for safe childcare operations during COVID-19.

“Schools are strongly encouraged to allow child care and after school programming to occur in person in school buildings,” the State of Michigan guidelines for safe school operation reads.

Some parents were concerned that AAPS never consulted with Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) about their decision to not offer SACC. Additionally, AAPS will not provide the list of the experts Swift said they are consulting weekly about this issue, despite public records requests for one. Swift did not respond to multiple requests for comment about this concern in time for publication, and the WCHD would not comment on the record. 

Lin, who is on the board of Community Day Care, which operates out of two AAPS elementary schools, said that AAPS relied on COVID-19 safety guidelines when they said they could not start any kind of in-person learning, but they refused to provide a list of experts at that time as well as now regarding SACC.

“It’s not a public health-informed decision,” Lin said. “It seems to me that it is a convenient excuse, a crisis that they’re not going to let go to waste.” 

Lin said AAPS’ approach to the child care program feels similar to when it presented guidelines to safely return to in-person learning. Last year, AAPS sparked controversy about safely returning to in-person learning when emails between AAPS and WCHD were obtained by Reasonable Return, a group advocating a reasonable approach to reopen schools in Ann Arbor. The emails show that AAPS’ draft metrics for reopening were ‘unachievable’ according to WCHD.  

Ernesto Querijero, a trustee on the AAPS Board of Education, expressed concern during the May 19 Board of Education meeting that not offering SACC before and after school would actually increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“Why do we think it’s safer for all of these students to go to other places, where we don’t have any control over the measures, as opposed to housing that (is) within our schools? Why is it safer if we let them go somewhere else?” Querijero said. 

Some AAPS parents, like Marcia Campos, reiterated these concerns of increased exposure to COVID-19 if many of the 1301 children enrolled in SACC receive child care from different locations that are not in their school.

“By being in contact with a much larger cohort of kids that are attending many different private child care providers, and many times being transported in closed buses with kids from other schools, we are putting every kid at an exponentially higher risk,” Campos said. 

Campos also said her concern with the AAPS decision is related to the costs involved with private child care, which can be a large burden.

“In our particular case, we will opt not to find a private care provider and will take the burden with our work schedules,” Campos said.

Swift said in the superintendent’s update on May 14 that AAPS intends to redesign the child care program for 2022-23 to be more equitable and in line with their mission.

In a blog post, AAPS parent and Ann Arbor Board of Education member Krystle DuPree wrote there are many significant equity concerns with the lack of availability of Ann Arbor childcare, especially within the BIPOC community.

“Recently, at an AAPS meeting, well over half of the public comments were given by single parents and working mothers concerned over childcare, many who feel their children will have no other choice than to be latchkey kids,” DuPree wrote. “One parent stated that she would have few options for childcare, either leaving her 8-year-old student at home alone, cutting back on work, or (to) ‘beg’ out-of-state relatives to care for them.”

Parents wrote directly to Swift and members of the Board of Education to express their concerns about equity after this decision. In an email obtained by the Daily, for example, AAPS parent Sara Soderstrom wrote to Swift that SACC was vital to her ability to care for her children while her husband worked in another state. 

“SACC at local schools provides the most affordable and convenient option for families. This is particularly important for low income families, single parents, and dual-working families,” Soderstrom wrote. “Without SACC in AAPS, our most vulnerable students and families will be most adversely affected.”

Numerous other parents agreed and signed the petition to reinstate the child care program. According to the petition, the absence of before and after care will disproportionately impact families of color.

“The consequences of this decision will be extremely inequitable … These families will also have to work less or spend more on private care to cover the gap in care,” the petition reads. “This is unconscionable, especially after the economic losses that women and families of color have suffered during the pandemic.”

Lin said that instead of increasing equity, the AAPS decision to not offer care will only widen the disparities that the pandemic has exacerbated.

“Child care responsibilities fall primarily on women,” Lin said. “And for women who work, that’s going to be detrimental to their careers. On top of that, families of color have way less ability to absorb changes like this. Single parent families and working class families – (this decision) affects all of the groups that have already been so punished by this pandemic.”

Many AAPS parents work from 8 or 9 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., which makes it difficult to drop off and pick your child up, Lin said. The AAPS school day times for this upcoming year have not yet been released.

The SACC administration provided a list of licensed child care providers and encouraged families needing child care to look at other options in the community. Hanss said that he is concerned there will likely not be enough space in community child care centers to accommodate all the children across 18 locations that were in the SACC program. 

“There is sure to be a shortage of availability now that AAPS is putting kids into an already overloaded system,” Hanss said.

Members of the Board of Education had dramatically different responses to the public outcry. The Daily obtained an email sent to an AAPS parent from Board of Education Secretary Susan Baskett, who wrote that it was puzzling why concerned parents felt the Board of Education should have discussed this issue with local child care providers.

“Not providing before and after child care options offers increased business opportunities to the local childcare providers,” Baskett wrote in the email.

During the Board of Education meeting on May 19, Swift noted that one of the pride points of SACC is that it is affordable for families, especially given that SACC provides full scholarships to some children enrolled in the program. Lin pointed out that child care providers in the community are more expensive than SACC.

“(AAPS) talk(s) such a big game about caring about equity, justice and inclusion, and not offering this affordable child care program means all of our lives are going to change,” Lin said.

In the May 19 meeting, Board of Education member Jeff Gaynor opposed the decision to not offer SACC. Gaynor said he understood that parents needed the announcement this early in order to arrange accommodations for the fall. 

“It was more than an announcement that there was a problem, it was a definitive statement that we will not have childcare in the fall,” Gaynor said. “And that is something I want to speak up as a board member that I do not support.”

In an email obtained by the Daily, Gaynor reiterated this point to an AAPS parent.

“Four months in advance seems premature to make a final decision,” Gaynor wrote. “Certainly an alert would be warranted at this time, followed by reaching out and collaborating toward a possible solution – if one is possible.” 

Lin said there are three main options AAPS could have explored instead of making the decision to simply not offer SACC. According to Lin, AAPS could have provided hiring incentives, as she believed there is no evidence that they made any effort to hire more childcare workers, or they could have partnered with additional local childcare providers, much like the successful model that has been operating at Lawton and Burns elementary schools since 1984. Additionally, Lin mentioned Ann Arbor is situated between two major universities, the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, and both have School of Education programs with whom AAPS could have partnered. 

In the May 19 meeting, Board of Education member Bryan Johnson said he disagreed with the comments from other Board of Education members that this decision is an issue they should find solutions for.

“I don’t agree that we represent the public. We’re elected by the public … but we do not have to get input from the public,” Johnson said. 

Lin said she was shocked by Johnson’s statement that the Board of Education doesn’t represent the Ann Arbor community.

“In what universe do you not represent the public?” Lin said. “This decision was made without input from parents, without input from the health department, their reasons keep changing, and none of them hold any water.”

Swift said AAPS will continue to monitor the situation, but many Ann Arbor parents said they expect some level of child care support this fall. 

“A lot of people are coming to the conclusion that AAPS just doesn’t want to deal with this program anymore,” Lin said.  “And people move here because it’s a progressive city, (so) decisions like this fly in the face of those values.” 

Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at sbick@umich.edu.