Shawnee Mission Schools staff to get child care boost from district this fall amid COVID-19 uncertainty

The Shawnee Mission School District is offering staff discounted child care options this fall amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Photo credit Celia Llopis-Jepsen/Kansas News Service

With all the uncertainty on educators’ minds this summer as schools prepare to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Shawnee Mission School District is hoping there’s at least one big thing some staff members won’t have to worry about: child care.

The district is offering discounted “child care and learning support” options for young school-aged children of district employees for the fall semester. This comes as the district expects to hear final recommendations this week from the county health department on how fully schools should reopen Sept. 8.

Last Monday, the Shawnee Mission School Board unanimously approved a pilot program this fall to provide “quality care options for the children of SMSD employees, grades pre-K-6,” even as the long-term effects of the ongoing pandemic remain unclear on the district’s normal operations.

“I have felt for a long time that the work our employees do is essential,” said Dr. Leigh Anne Neal, Ed.D, the district’s Chief of Early Childhood Learning and Sustainability. “I hope this brings a glimmer of excitement to our employees.”

The pilot program will be in partnership with the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department (JCPRD) and the YMCA of Greater Kansas City and will only cover children of employees enrolled in Shawnee Mission schools in pre-K through 6th grade.

To give an idea of the potential scope of the program’s impact, Neal said, currently, 531 children enrolled in SMSD schools are the children of district employees.

Essentially, it means Shawnee Mission teachers or staff who have to work from home this fall during the pandemic will be able to send their own young school-aged children to child care and learning programs run in partnership with the Shawnee Mission district, instead of having to try to tend to their children’s needs and the needs of their students at the same time at home.

“Our goal is to make it so that our employees can focus on their work,” Superintendent Mike Fulton said at last week’s meeting.

The pilot program approved by the board calls for a two-tiered plan, based on the district’s current plan for reopening schools in September:

  • For parents of students enrolling in the district’s “in-person/hybrid” learning model this fall, they will receive 3 full days of child care or learning supports (available from 7 a.m.-6 p.m.) per week, plus two days of before and after school care for $75/week for K-6 students, and $95/week for pre-K students.
  • For parents of students enrolling in the district’s “remote only” learning model this fall, they will receive 5 full days of child care or learning supports (available from 7 a.m.-6 p.m.) per week, for $125/week for pre-K-6 students

“Child care concerns are one of the things we hear about pretty frequently from staff,” said Board President Heather Ousley. “We understand the frustration in regards to that, so it’s nice there is an option to choose from.”

The proposal approved by the board says the “care providers [JCPRD and the YMCA] will provide programming and support students with remote programming and independent studies Monday through Friday … and for pre-K students a robust pre-K enrichment program.”

Neal emphasized that JCPRD and the YMCA will be expected to follow along with the students’ remote- and hybrid-learning plans this fall, as they evolve in the ongoing climate of uncertainty.

“They are very cognizant that one of their key roles they have is that they connect students to that remote learning piece and support their learning,” she said.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment this week is expected to release its final recommendations for how fully schools throughout the county should reopen.

As of Friday, the county reported slight upticks in both metrics used to determine school reopening. Percent positive of tests stood at 11.3%, well above the 5% threshold recommended. And new cases inched up to nearly 98 per day.