View online edition


Working Parents Face Child Care Issues with Hybrid School Schedules

by Joanna Gagis, NJTV News, Producer/Correspondent

This story is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. Link to story:

Talk to one parent and you’ll hear just one perspective of thousands when it comes to reopening schools. But for working parents in particular, the hybrid model poses real challenges.

“There’s definitely an issue with child care when it comes to the hybrid model. You know, who will be watching my children when I’m at work?” said mom Lauren Sbarro-Fernandez. “To not send my children back at all would probably be my best option, because by limiting their exposure to all of these students, I actually have more child care options.”

But almost as numerous are the plans coming from districts. Metuchen has followed the guidance of epidemiologists, says Superintendent Vincent Caputo.

“So we’re doing full days every other week and that will go for all of our schools. Half day only exacerbates those child care issues for parents. More importantly is our instruction, right? Secondly to safety is instruction. That’s our primary function in schools. So any time you cut the day in half, you’re going to reduce half the instructional time,” said Caputo.

But for students to keep pace on their week at home, they’ll need to follow that full day of remote learning. It’s something many working parents can’t supervise, especially as businesses reopen.

Jessica Marozine’s kids will spend their weeks out of school at the local YMCA to help fill any gaps.

“I’m so thankful that they’ll be able to do the schooling there and it’s not just, send them for a week and then me having to deal with the work when I get home,” she said.

But that wouldn’t be the case for Sbarro-Fernandez.

“I would probably have to work with them once I got home from teaching during the day,” she said.

Many working families are struggling to afford the added child care costs on top of frozen or reduced salaries. Gov. Phil Murphy said child care concerns are an issue of equity. He’s pushed for at least some in-person instruction and said that federal dollars are needed to offset the costs.

“So you’ve got a lot of families in the state where either both mom and dad, or you’ve got a single parent, they have no choice but to work. And so, therefore if you don’t provide them that alternative, they’re cornered in terms of having to find some way to take care of their child if their child is not in a physical classroom,” Murphy said during his July 29 coronavirus news briefing. “If Congress could come across the goal line with a big slug of federal cash and the president were to sign that, that could make a difference.”

“So luckily the Y’s been very generous to me and they’ve been able to work with my budget, but it’s still going to be very tight because that’s money that you weren’t expecting to spend for the year,” said Marozine.

Marozine is a single mom of two who’ll have to leave her job once a day to drive her kids to the Y. There are close to 400 YMCAs aftercare programs across New Jersey that care for more than 3,500 kids. Many operate in schools, and their budgets will also be affected by new guidelines, that include smaller groups per teacher.

“If you have district A that’s going every other week, and you have district B that’s half days or two days a week or three days a week, at no point can we co-mingle groups of children,” said Rose Cushing, public policy chair for the YMCA State Alliance.

Metuchen is designating a child care service called BASC as essential staff so they can operate in a school building. It’s something that many districts won’t offer.