Teachers returning to Atlanta schools face child care needs

Rabiah Morning-Parker gives her daughter Ayana, 7, a kiss as she picks her up at Genesis Early Learning & Child Development Center with the center’s director Addie Lummus looking on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Atlanta. Morning-Parker is an Atlanta Public School teacher who returned to work in-person before her daughter’s school restarted in-person learning. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Caption
Rabiah Morning-Parker gives her daughter Ayana, 7, a kiss as she picks her up at Genesis Early Learning & Child Development Center with the center’s director Addie Lummus looking on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Atlanta. Morning-Parker is an Atlanta Public School teacher who returned to work in-person before her daughter’s school restarted in-person learning. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

When Atlanta Public Schools told teachers they must return to their classrooms this week,Rabiah Morning-Parker first thought about her daughter.

The English as a second language teacher worked from home since March, when APS closed school buildings because of the coronavirus. She’s taught online classes while her 7-year-old does virtual first-grade lessons.

But Atlanta’s reopening plan required teachers to come back to buildings before schools begin reopening to some students on Monday. That left a week-long gap during which Morning-Parker, a single parent, had to find someone to look after her daughter.

“They don’t realize what a bind you can be in when you’re a teacher because you’re expected to give to your students, but sometimes they neglect to think about [the teachers’] own children,” she said.

Then, she received support from an unexpected source.

Morning-Parker is one of 75 APS employees to receive a $1,000 grant to help cover the cost of child care. The payments, funded through a larger $340,000 donation from Mercedes-Benz USA, are one way school officials are trying to assist returning teachers.

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Some educators are on edge as schools plan to reopen Monday for students in prekindergarten through second grade, as well as certain special education students. Concerns mounted as COVID-19 cases surged and teachers died in nearby districts.

There also are the practical considerations such as how teachers will care for their children who aren’t yet back in Atlanta schools or who attend other districts that remain online-only.

About half of the nation’s public school teachers have children living at home, according to estimates by Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution.

In Atlanta, an employee survey showed that child care concerns ranked high on the list of reasons preventing employees from returning to buildings, said Skye Duckett, chief human resources officer.

Worries about the cost and availability of child care came up in staff town hall sessions and in meetings with the district’s teacher advisory council.

“‘What am I supposed to do with my kids?’ was a very common question,” Duckett said.

The district tried to chip away at the problem.

Starting Jan. 19, the district began offering child care at some schools at a cost of $150 per child per week.

There’s a hotline for APS employees to call to find child care resources, and the district awarded the $1,000 child care grants on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Rabiah Morning-Parker picks her daughter Ayana, 7, up at Genesis Early Learning & Child Development Center on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Atlanta. Morning-Parker is an Atlanta Public School teacher who has returned to the classroom before her daughter’s school has restarted in-classroom learning. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Caption
Rabiah Morning-Parker picks her daughter Ayana, 7, up at Genesis Early Learning & Child Development Center on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Atlanta. Morning-Parker is an Atlanta Public School teacher who has returned to the classroom before her daughter’s school has restarted in-classroom learning. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Morning-Parker said dealing with uncertainty about returning to in-person work was exhausting. Her child care options grew limited when a family member who helped out got sick with COVID-19, she said.

She applied for the district’s telework program but was denied because child care issues no longer met the program’s eligibility criteria.

“When that grant came through, that was like pennies from heaven,” she said. “That was just wonderful for them to do that.”

She sent her daughter to a child care center this week. She’ll also use the grant money to pay for after-school care since her daughter’s school day will end before her work day.

Child care is just one thing teachers worry about, said Michael Sears, who works with Atlanta teachers through his job at the Georgia Association of Educators. They’re also fearful about exposing their families to a virus they could bring home. The grants will help with child care expenses, but only for a small number of teachers, he said.

APS said about 100 employees applied for the grants. The district hopes to get more donations like the one from Mercedes-Benz.

Duckett said the district has tried to “do everything possible” to support returning workers.

“A hundred little things might add up to enough support for one person to come back. Everybody’s needs are so different, and it’s not like a one-shot thing,” she said.