Across Delaware, families are struggling with continuing to work while also ensuring their children have a safe and supportive environment for remote learning. On October 26, Governor Carney announced $1 million in grants for child care centers that support students in remote learning. This is an important step forward, but meeting the needs of Delaware families requires an all hands on deck approach that provides maximum flexibility and options.
The first hurdle to helping families is the requirement in the new grant program that applications can only be submitted by existing licensed child care providers. The simple fact is that the demand for safe, supervised child care for students engaged in distance learning goes well beyond the capacity of current providers. Community organizations and churches are willing to provide this vital service, but they are currently blocked by Delaware’s burdensome licensing requirements for official child-care centers. Governor Carney can solve this problem with an executive order that creates temporary licenses for Safe Learning Centers, using existing flexibility within Delaware regulations, to ensure that all Delaware children have access to much-needed resources and support.
Over the summer, the Department of Education conducted a survey to assess remote learning experiences in the spring. The results show that what families need most are internet access, electronics, books, meals, tutoring and assistance with college prep. If we can remove the barriers to doing so, these are the kinds of immediate support that our community organizations want to provide.
Inspired by similar flexibility granted over the summer in Pennsylvania, Delaware Safe Learning Centers could open immediately. Not only will this provide significant relief to parents who need to work in order to pay bills and support their families, but it may also help pull in the several thousand Delaware students who are currently missing from virtual classrooms. Many Delaware families still do not have access to broadband in order to participate in virtual learning; even in Wilmington, the free WiFi access is often overloaded.
Current Delaware regulations already state that “programs that offer school-age care on a limited basis in order to meet an emergency” can operate without a license. Governor Carney could immediately use our current emergency as the basis for allowing existing community organizations who want to provide affordable child care and supervision for distance learning to begin doing so right away. This language would also allow parents to form learning pods if that is the best fit for their family. All of these programs would follow rules designed to keep children and staff healthy amidst the pandemic and temporary licenses could expire in the summer of 2021.
In fact, the Delaware Department of Education and the Office of Child-Care Licensing already allowed existing camps to operate through the end of October. They’ve also allowed licensed child-care providers to use school buildings to supervise kids. While there’s some indication the availability of school buildings may decrease as more Delaware districts move to hybrid approaches, national trends indicate that as many as half of all families may choose to stay virtual for a variety of reasons.
Our Delaware families have been faced with many challenges this year. If sending their children back to school isn’t the right choice, we believe they should have options for safe, supervised virtual learning.
Governor Carney’s $1 million grant program is one piece of the puzzle. The next piece, which the Governor can act on today, is to make it easier for community organizations to support Delaware families as we continue to weather this pandemic.