Some D91 parents are scrambling – and frustrated – that after spring break, free daytime remote-learning supervision will no longer be offered at the Park District of Forest Park, a service provided by the park district and paid for by D91 when a D91 deal with the YMCA was terminated early in the school year.
The park district will continue to supervise kids through March 26, the last day of school before the district’s spring break. Spring Break Camp is being offered from March 29 through April 1 through the park district, as well as childcare during the days of April 5 and 6, but that program will not be paid for by D91. Beginning April 7, parents whose children were attending the park district during school days will have to find another solution.
The Community Center, run by Karen Dylewski, has served as the original location of district-subsidized child-care and will continue to do so. But that location is full, and the park, which pivoted and filled-in when the district needed help, needs to return the attention of its staff to getting ready for summer.
Jackie Iovinelli, executive director of the Park District of Forest Park, said she was asked in September if the park district could help D91. In what seemed like a last-minute decision, Cavallo pulled out of a deal with the YMCA, leaving dozens of families with no daytime supervision for their kids. The district reached out to the park, which scrambled to help.
“We started in September, starting as fast as we could for the families,” Iovinelli said. She mentioned Danette Krajewski, who supervised the program and did a fantastic job figuring out all the details of putting together a program so quickly and for so many children, keeping them safe and following all guidelines.
The park district, said Iovinelli, originally planned to help the district until the end of October. They had their own programming planned. But an uptick in COVID-19 cases put a halt to their plans, and the school district still needed them. They continued caring for children and supervising remote learning until winter break.
In January, though, they needed to start planning for summer. Opening the pool. Fixing up the grounds. Hiring and training new seasonal staff. Scheduling events.
“We had to have an end date [to daytime remote learning],” Iovinelli said. “We knew we couldn’t keep wavering and extending it. So we decided we’d continue until the end of Spring Break.” She added: “Our staff’s been running on fumes, and we need to prepare for summer camp and other summer events.” The spaces the kids have been using since the beginning of the school year, spaces normally used as rentals for parties and events, need to be repaired and painted.
“We felt so bad, but we notified parents about a month ago that there’s an end date to the supervision we’ve been providing,” Iovinelli said.
The park will still accommodate about 15 children during the day, kids who have been attending the After School Recess program that runs from 3 to 6 p.m., Iovinelli said. But that’s a far cry from the approximately 60 kids they were serving before.
Iovinelli said they loved having the kids around and formed bonds with so many children and families, but it’s time for them to “get back to the park business.”
“There’s a certain point where we need to get back to what we do,” Iovinelli said.
During the March 11 board of education meeting, Superintendent Lou Cavallo praised both the community center and park district for stepping up to help families.
“The community center and the park district both, I will forever be grateful to them,” Cavallo said. “Most communities did not have … organizations willing to watch their kids and a school district willing to pay for it.”
Cavallo said he wanted to make it clear, though, that it wasn’t the school district’s decision to end park-district-supplied childcare. That, he said, was “a decision made by the park district … We were not part of that decision making.”
Some parents, however, think D91 should do more to find an alternative for parents whose kids have been safely cared for by the park district during the days when they’re at work.
Parent Stephanie Kevil, with a student at Betsy Ross, spoke during the March 11 board meeting to say she was unhappy with the district’s response to the park no longer offering services.
“I am very disappointed in the school district’s reaction — rather lack of reaction — to the news of the park district shutting down their school daycare supervision program. Simply put, that’s an unacceptable response,” Kevil said.
She added that in the beginning of the year, D91 set up programs, but now one won’t be available any longer.
“It just seems like you’re abdicating any kind of responsibility for the welfare of the children during the actual school day,” Kevil said. “And I think that the school district is created to educate and care for the youngest in the community, and District 91 needs to be accountable to the students and families, for planning for the students’ welfare and care during the school hours.”
Calling the daytime supervision “a lifeline for families,” Kevil suggested steps the school district could take, such as extending the current school hours and days, negotiating with the park district on the usage of one of their buildings, or finding other spaces. Even, she said, providing a forum for parents and families to contact one another to talk about options would be helpful.
“It’s really difficult in this time of social distancing to find allies and parents and friends in the community,” Kevil said.
A group of D91 parents have put together an open letter to the district “on the need to address student supervision.”
Parents are invited to read and add their signatures.
The letter, in part states, “The District’s non-reaction to the closure of the [Park District of Forest Park] program is unacceptable because this closure concerns the safety, well-being, and academic performance of the students …We demand that you step-up and provide an action plan to deal with the effects of this closure. Caregivers and families in the [park district] program will lose over 23 hours of child supervision per week—all during regular school hours.”
The letter in its entirety can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/w65u6v4.