As a strike by Columbus City Schools teachers and other staff continues, the first day of classes for nearly all schools in the district on Wednesday most likely will pivot from an in-person start to a virtual one.
And with that comes a challenge for many working parents: finding someone who can watch their children during the day.
Late Sunday night, the Columbus Education Association announced that more than 94% of its members had voted to reject the Columbus City Schools Board of Education’s last final offer and go on strike for the first time since 1975.
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Instead of reporting to school buildings for teacher preparation day, CEA members – which includes nearly 4,500 teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, psychologists and other education professionals – began picketing at 7 a.m. Monday at 20 locations.
If the strike is still in effect Wednesday, Columbus City Schools will move to “synchronous and asynchronous remote learning,” and the district’s buildings will be closed to students and community members, according to information on a district webpage. District spokesperson Jacqueline Bryant said the district has 600 substitutes who would be given the curriculum to teach remotely.
Virtual learning can pose a problem for parents who cannot afford to take time off work or do not have another family member or friend who can watch their children during the school day. But area recreation centers and daycare locations are some of the places offering alternatives to help.
Even those parents who are in a position to work from home – like Cindy Strode, 46, of Powell – worry about how long they can go it alone if teachers remain on the picket lines for an extended period of time.
“It’s going to make me feel like I need to work at home more,” said Strode, who works for Chemical Abstracts Service and whose 12-year-old daughter Sienna Strode is entering seventh grade at the Columbus Gifted Academy near the Short North. “I know that they’re a great company and that they’re understanding, but it still makes me nervous because you don’t want to ever come off with the appearance of taking advantage of a certain situation. … You just always have that feeling.”
To assist working parents who need a place to send their kids during the first week of school the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department will offer nine recreation centers as “student support centers” to provide students with adult supervision and internet access for online learning, Bryant said via email.
The support centers will be open Wednesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the recreation centers staying open until 9 p.m. The locations are:
The Columbus Metropolitan Library reopened its school help centers Monday at all of its locations except the Main Library. The school help centers offer students spaces to study and learn, as well as computers, printers, digital research tools and the library system’s catalog, including eBooks, according to a news release.
While the centers do not open until after 3 p.m., staff are anticipating working with students throughout the day to assist them with remote learning, said library media specialist Ben Zenitsky.
YMCA of Central Ohio and Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Ohio will also open their doors to serve students, officials said.
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Another option for parents is to send their children to a daycare center, but even that comes with its challenges, said Eric Karolak, the CEO of Columbus-based child care resource and referral agency Action for Children.
He said child care providers want to provide resources for parents, but are unable to offer services for free like a school can. Plus, many centers only offer care before and after school.
“The bedrock of American democracy is free, public education,” Karolak said. “And child care isn’t, which is the crux of the child care crisis.”
Small World Child Care has received inquiries from three Columbus City Schools parents on enrolling their children at the center, director Elizabeth Garren said. In addition to offering care for babies, toddlers and preschool-aged children, the Far South Side center has before and after school care for children ages 5-14.
Garren said she is unsure of how tuition will work for kids who only need care during the strike. She said the families will need subsidized child care and is waiting to hear back from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services on what to do.
“The state has their school schedule, so once (students) start school, they only pay us for the time they’re here at the center instead of a full day,” she said. “So, the parents were wondering if they are going to have to pay out of pocket because the state’s not going to pay the full amount because, technically, they’re supposed to be in school.”
The strike also affects her personally, as Garren has three children enrolled in Columbus City Schools.
“Thankfully, my oldest is a senior this year and he’s able to stay home with his younger siblings,” she said. “But not all parents have that luxury.”
The Northern Lights location of Brightside Academy, a child care provider in Linden, is also receiving calls from parents who are seeking child care. Director Desiree Mclin said with 91 kids enrolled, the center is almost at full capacity. Brightside also offers before and after school services for kids ages 5-12.
“We’re trying to figure things out,” she said.