DES MOINES, Iowa — Last week the Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) district said it’s moving forward with a lawsuit against the state after its request for 100 percent online learning was denied. While the district said it’s not safe to hold class inside, it does believe it’s safe to proceed with athletics and its school-sponsored daycare.
“My initial reaction was just shock, kind of disbelief. If it’s not safe to open the schools for students to go to school, I don’t understand how it’s safe to open the school for daycare,” Michelle Phillips, a Des Moines mom of three said.
Phillips has a third-grader, second-grader, and kindergartner going to Jefferson Elementary this fall. Like many, she is trying to figure out what to do this school year with her kids at home full time.
“You know, they’re not old enough to be at home by themselves. So we would have to look at something, you know, maybe even Metro Kids,” Phillips said.
Metro Kids Care is a school-sponsored program available for DMPS elementary school-aged children. This fall the district is opening it up full-time 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., five days a week, at nine school buildings for families who need help during the workweek.
This service comes at a price. It’s $145 a week per child. For Phillips and her three kids, that’s about $1,700 a month.
“It felt like, ‘if you open your wallet, we’ll open our doors,'”Michelle Philips, DMPS mom
DMPS responded stating that school and their daycare are two very different programs. That’s why they feel they can successfully hold one and not the other.
“When you think about the number of students, our capacities at [Metro Kids Care] is about 40-50, where bringing kids back, even in a hybrid model with 50 percent of the kids, you’re talking about 150 kids in the building. That’s a very different reality,” Allyson Vukovich, DMPS Director of Community in Schools said.
But Phillips just wishes she had a choice to at least send her kids back to the classroom part-time like the state requires. Phillips said she was a part of the 70 percent of parents when registering for school during the first week of July that preferred the hybrid return to learn plan.
“For the people that are worried about their health and their safety and their children’s well being, I completely understand that. The virtual option was never being taken away from them. They always had that option,” Phillips said.
For Phillips, her only option at this point is to pay for child care and have her three young children start their school year on a tablet.
“This isn’t what any of us want. If we had it, you know, our way, we would have the kids back, but right now it’s just not safe to do that. So we’re doing everything we can to make sure that families that need [day care], have access to it,” Vukovich said.
“They’re following only the rules they want. They’re following only the state mandates that work for them,” Phillips said. “It just reminds me of telling my kids ‘don’t eat all the m&ms out of the trail mix.’ I mean it’s just, ‘oh we like this one,’ ‘we’re gonna play sports,’ ‘we’re gonna open up metro kids for daycare,’ ‘but we’re not gonna send kids back to school.’ It’s just really inconsistent.”
One of the state-mandated rules DMPS does follow is the “diversity plan.” That plan essentially allows the school district to deny students the option of open enrolling into another school district. So families that wanted to open enroll into another metro district that offers a different “Return to Learn” plan were not allowed to do so.
“I think it’s really unfair that they’re cherry picking the state mandates,” Phillips said.
Metro Kids Care is a licensed child care site with the state so it follows all CDC and state guidelines. They also accept childcare assistance as well for families that qualify. Registration for the daycare opened last Thursday and they still have some openings.
While the daycare providers will not be licensed teachers, they will be trained in the online technology “canvas” that students will be using for virtual learning to assist day care students with their online education.