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Wednesday  •  August 19, 2020

Howard County Parks & Recreation and Columbia Association Usage of HCPSS Schools for Full-Day Child Care

By Steven Keller

At the HCPSS Board of Education meeting yesterday, discussion occurred about the recently announced plan to allow Howard County Parks & Recreation and the Columbia Association to use space in HCPSS schools to provide full-day child care this Fall.

An important part of this discussion occurred between BOE member Christina Delmont-Small and Superintendent Martirano:


Another valuable discussion was between BOE member Vicky Cutroneo, Superintendent Martirano and the HCPSS Chief Operating Officer:


According to the HCPSS Chief Operating Officer, 26 children will be allowed into a total of 29 HCPSS schools for child care programs, with 4-5 staff members per school. That is 754 children and ~116-145 staff members in total.


From this 2019 special education reportthere are ~5700 HCPSS students with special needs that may require in-person small-group instruction to make any meaningful academic & social/emotional progress this Fall.


Superintendent Martirano has repeatedly stated that “In no way should these [child care] programs be viewed as competing variables [with the HCPSS mission and with plans to bring in HCPSS students for small-group instruction].”


The HCPSS Mission Statement is: to ensure academic success and social-emotional well-being for each student in an inclusive and nurturing environment that closes opportunity gaps.


For every child brought in to an HCPSS school for child care, HCPSS has one less space to bring in a special needs student or a student with two outside-the-home working parents who has difficulty accessing the planned 100% virtual learning program.


With that in mind, how aren’t these programs competing with each other?


How is this decision leading with equity and meeting HCPSS’s mission statement?


The 754 spaces currently being allocated for child care services in HCPSS schools represents spaces that could otherwise be available for ~13-14% of the total number of HCPSS special needs students. Only a subset of those students likely need in-person instruction this Fall, so 754 spaces would go a long way towards bringing equitable education to HCPSS’s neediest students while all other students remain in virtual learning mode.


Superintendent Martirano has stated that plans are in progress for bringing some students into HCPSS schools for small-group instruction, but he was not able to estimate when this plan would be ready or when these small-group sessions could begin.


In contrast, HoCo Parks & Rec and the Columbia Association have already rolled out their child care plans that are at least as complex as what HCPSS must deal with and will begin their services in time for the 1st day of school on September 8, 2020.


HCPSS central office staff have had almost 6 months to work on such a plan for small-group instruction. If this was their priority, then it would have been ready to roll out *before* any proposed plans by other agencies for child care.


If equitable education is the priority for HCPSS, then no space from HCPSS schools would be ceded for child care until every possible square inch of space available (already extremely limited in this COVID-19 situation) has been granted to a willing HCPSS student and staff member to participate in in-person small-group instruction. If all available space ends up being filled by students & staff, then that will mean HCPSS has fulfilled their primary mission.


If any space is still available after all willing students & staff are allowed back into HCPSS buildings for daily small-group instruction, then and only then should the possibility of using the remaining space for child care be considered.

HoCo Parks & Rec and the Columbia Association has the ability to explore and utilize partnerships with other public & private facilities in the area for their child care programs.


To be clear, child care is indeed an urgent need for thousands of HoCo families due to HCPSS’s decision to conduct 100% virtual learning this Fall and the programs being offered by HoCo Parks & Rec and the Columbia Association should be recognized as providing an essential public need in this time of crisis.


However, allowing these child care programs to use space in HCPSS schools before any limited small-group instruction is allowed to begin for students in need is sending a very confusing and concerning message to HCPSS stakeholders.

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