The Little Rock School District is preparing to offer a free “day camp” for the children of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences staffers. The child care operation will be based at Pulaski Heights Middle and Elementary schools and is set to begin Monday, April 20, and continue through July 31. Care will be provided weekdays from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.
UAMS is registering children, ages 5-12, through April 17. The children of employees involved in direct patient care will be given priority, according to internal UAMS communications. The service is available to all children regardless of whether they attend the LRSD. The two campuses can accommodate no more than 150 children to maintain sufficient social distancing, according to LRSD Superintendent Mike Poore.
In an interview Monday afternoon, Poore admitted that the program remained a work in progress.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Poore has been talking with local hospital leaders about helping with child care since March. He first publicly floated the idea at a March 23 Little Rock COVID-19 Task Force meeting.
Some 800 UAMS staffers said they would take advantage of a day camp in an initial survey, Poore said.
“We have no idea what the number is going to be at the end of the week,” he said.
Around 70 children had been registered as of Tuesday afternoon.
The ratio of staff to children will average two adults to seven children, Poore said. It won’t go higher than two adults to ten children or lower than two adults to five children.
The LRSD will provide meals to students and “up to” 10 certified employees (teachers) to provide curriculum assistance to students for a maximum of five hours, according to a memorandum of understanding between the LRSD and UAMS. Up to 40 “classified staff,” including paraprofessionals and security guards, will work in shifts to provide child care, according to the MOU.
Poore said as many as 6-7 employee “groups” would be used at the campuses each day. Those groups include administrators, food service personnel, custodians, paraprofessionals, teachers and nurses. No LRSD employees will be compelled to participate, but the district plans to offer incentives, including allowing participating employees to work fewer hours, Poore said.
As of Monday, the LRSD was still working to staff the day camp.
Will children and staff wear face masks? What protocols will the LRSD follow to limit risk of exposure to children and staff?
“No one from the medical center group is going to have their kid come to this campus unless they feel like the campus is safe and has a degree of sanitization and social distancing,” Poore said. “At the same time, we’re not going to get people to take this as an option to work there if they don’t think it’s safe.”
He said the LRSD was deferring to UAMS in terms of setting safety protocols.
UAMS spokeswoman Leslie Taylor for more information said they would stress things like social distancing, hand hygiene and for children not to touch their faces. All staff and children will have access to face masks.
Poore said he had also been working with the Arkansas Heart Hospital and the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans’ Hospital to develop childcare solutions for their staff. Nothing has been formalized, but he said both would likely serve around 60 children. The day camp for the Heart Hospital would be based at Terry Elementary, 10900 Mara Lynn Road, and the camp for the V.A. would be at Brady Elementary, 7915 W. Markham St.
The LRSD previously provided staff to assist at Arkansas Children’s Hospital’s on-campus Child Enrichment Center. They’re no longer needed, Poore said. “Initially, [Children’s Hospital} was thinking we might have 75-100 kids. Then 40. Now it’s down to around 20, I believe.” The agreement between Children’s and the LRSD remains in place if the need arises again.
Poore initially framed this outreach as helping first responders. Why stop with hospital employees? What about people who work at grocery stores?
“When you look at the core of what we have to do to have a healthy society and support people who aren’t well, it’s got to start with the medical community,” Poore said. “Whether that model gets expanded, we’ll see.”
He said that he had been talking with the Central Arkansas Library System about providing programming assistance for children at the day camps. Little Rock Rotarians have also expressed interest in providing volunteers, he said.
Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association, said she had been in regular contact with the district about the day camp plan.
“LREA understands that there is an immediate need for assistance with childcare for our healthcare workers on the front lines and with providing meals to our students of greatest need throughout this pandemic crisis,” she said in a statement. “We appreciate the fact that the infrastructure for providing meal services is already in place through work with our partners during previous events. LREA acknowledges and appreciates that any educators that volunteer to put themselves at risk to provide these services are heroes.
“LREA is in daily contact with the district and is insisting that in order to effectively and safely provide these services, the most stringent guidelines possible must be followed to protect our educators and the students as both are important and valued members of our school family.
*All CDC guidelines must be followed: Masks, gloves, daily testing prior to entry, outsourced cleaning company sterilizes every site every single night after everyone leaves the premises, and no more than 10 students per classroom with two adults.
*If anyone that volunteers becomes ill with Covid-19, there will be no loss of sick leave for illness-related absences.
*No volunteers will be allowed with underlying medical conditions, over 65, etc.
*All volunteers receive recognition and an incentive for doing this.”
*This post has been updated.