WASHINGTON – Kids weren’t the only ones waiting anxiously every morning this week to see if schools were closed: For school-based day care center operators, snow days can mean more work, not less.
With schools closed, what are usually before- and after-school programs extend to all-day care, as centers around the state try to accommodate working parents.
“It’s very complicated,” said Cindy Sumrell, personnel manager for Montgomery Child Care Association, which runs several day care centers in Montgomery County schools. “We’re there for the parents when they’re working. . . . We’ll risk life and limb to open most days.”
Day care operators said they do not find out about school closings until everybody else does, usually about 5 a.m.
“We see it on television,” said Jeanne Page, executive director of Open Door, a day care that uses school facilities in Harford and Cecil counties. “It’s totally up to the school.”
Each county school system manages the day care programs differently, but the centers will typically open if a custodian is there to unlock the doors and clear the sidewalks.
“When we have schools closed, our support staff is generally still active,” said Talbot County Assistant Superintendent John Masone. “So when our staff is in they will shovel the walks and prepare all that.”
Frederick County public schools “make sure the building is accessible” for day care centers, said spokeswoman Marita Stup-Loose.
“We make sure they can get into the building, the heat is working and there is parking,” she said.
Not every snow day can be a work day for the day care centers, however. Page noted that daycare centers must close under the most severe situations.
“We are tenants in a public school facility. There have to be some personnel present to open, and usually it’s a custodian,” Page said. But she noted that, “School systems have all sorts of levels of closed — code blue, code yellow, code red.”
The Harford County Public Schools Web site said that all school activity stops when the system declares a code red or code green, both of which close all schools and school offices. But code blue — which most state school systems were operating under Tuesday and Wednesday — closes the schools only to students.
That’s when day care operators can go to work.
“Any chance that the school is open, we are there to provide the service,” said Lauren Alampi, director of school-age child care for the Harford County YMCA.
In Talbot County, where the Easton Day Care Center has used school facilities for almost 20 years, Masone said day care officials have keys to the buildings so they can open the schools themselves if necessary.
“But (the day care) is pretty self-serving. They’ll shovel the walk if they have to because they open the doors at 7 a.m.,” he said.
Easton Day Care Center Executive Director Donna Weber said it usually takes a state of emergency to stop them from opening their five facilities. Monday was the first time the centers had closed this year, she said, and they only closed last year during Hurricane Isabel and the February snowstorm — both times when Gov. Robert Ehrlich declared a state of emergency.
“It has to be pretty bad weather and circumstances for us to close,” Weber said.
Even though the centers said they stay open to serve parents, it is not clear that parents are taking advantage of their business. Most centers said they still see significantly fewer children on snow days.
The Frederick County YMCA, for example, opens only the four largest of its 19 locations on snow days, said Kathryn Gusman, associate director for school-age child care. Each of those four sites can hold up to 60 children, and are usually full on a normal day, she said, but there were only about 61 children total Tuesday and about 120 on Wednesday.
Sumrell said the Montgomery Child Care Association also had about half the normal number of children Tuesday.
But Masone said it is a nice service for those parents who do take advantage of it.
“I can’t say that it’s been flawless, but, by and large, it has just been a win-win-win situation”– for the school, the day care and the parents, he said.
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