OUSD Discusses Childcare for Orinda Students During the Pandemic

0
46

    In a special school board meeting held via Zoom on Aug. 3, Orinda Union School District (OUSD) board members, teachers and parents alike were given the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding childcare needs this fall during COVID-19.
    A decision wasn’t reached at the longer-than-usual three and a half hour Zoom meeting; however, all felt it was informative and necessary.
    “I am not sure at this point whether action will be taken on the childcare issue,” said Orinda Board of Trustees President Cara Hoxie via email the morning after the special meeting adjourned.
    Up for public comment and discussion was childcare for school-aged children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Board members first listened to guidance from Kelly Rem, legal counsel, on potential risks involved in providing childcare through the district, parent clubs or a third-party vendor on OUSD school campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “Safety of the students and staff is of the utmost importance, following all applicable laws through county and state,” said Rem. “We want to minimize liability and exposure, and if we go with option three with a third-party vendor, it’s the most legally conservative option – it’s an arms-length arrangement.”
    Short of not operating childcare at all – which would be the ultimate conservative action – Superintendent of OUSD, Dr. Carolyn Seaton, felt a third-party vendor would be the next best conservative option.
    “It passes on the responsibilities and liabilities and gives all entities the most protection overall,” said Seaton. “I know parents and even teachers who desperately need childcare.”
    Hoxie, among other board members, voiced overall concerns about the childcare discussion item.
    “I’m not even sure why we are talking childcare when schools should be distance learning per Governor Gavin Newsom,” said Hoxie.
    Noting that these are unusual circumstances to start the new school year, Hoxie, among all board members, expressed worries and concerns over liabilities, responsibilities, hybrid-teaching, licensing, social and emotional support, safety and training.
    OUSD parent Alicia Keenan said Sleepy Hollow Elementary School met last week and voted not to open clubs that usually meet before or after school, to which Hoxie responded, “Everyone is all over the board with what direction to go in.”
    Feeling pressures from everyone involved, Hoxie and other board members think a decision needs to be made soon.
    “People need to work and pay their mortgages and we need to have that balance,” she said. “Families need to make decisions, and it doesn’t appear that Contra Costa is going to get off this watch list any time soon. If we don’t make a decision, the parents will.”
    Dr. Seaton noted that other school districts, such as Walnut Creek and San Ramon, are using outside vendors for childcare during distance learning.
    “I sense that if the provider is following county health guidance, that we would not have the rug pulled out from under us, but only if there were a significant spike in COVID cases,” she said.
    Board Member Jason Kuane suggested the need to have everything spelled out, a written policy and written guidelines, in moving forward with childcare.
    With initial opposition to childcare, Board Member Carol Brown expressed hesitancy.
    “If we can’t have school, we shouldn’t have something that looks like school,” said Brown, noting that this is still a discussion item, and not an actionable item.
    “Our schools are closed for a very good reason,” she said. “I’m not comfortable with childcare on our campus. I feel lives are a little more important than that.”
    Having raised five children, Brown added that she also has huge empathy for parents.
    School Board Member Hillary Weiner said, “I’m for it, for those who really need childcare. We could call it ‘crisis childcare.’”
    Many parents voiced their concerns as well, stating that they are working parents in need of childcare and in need of safe and effective environments for their children.
    Ultimately, five board members, initially indicated support for a third-party vendor.
    All are in agreement that the childcare issue is crucial for the community. A decision will be made after further meetings, policies and actionable items are set and voted upon.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.