SOUTH PORTLAND — As the school year in South Portland is beginning in a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning, many families in the district have expressed the need for child care options.

According to the South Portland School Department website, each school in the district is dividing student bodies into two groups, Cohort A, which will meet in-person on Mondays and Thursdays, and Cohort B, which will meet on Tuesdays and Fridays. Remote learning will take place for both cohorts on Wednesdays. File photo

The South Portland Board of Education, on Aug. 17, approved a $5,000 contingency allocation to support scholarships for 12 students attending a full-day, once-a-week South Portland Parks and Recreation child care program.

Assistant Superintendent Jodi Mezzanotte said that the program will serve students and families on Wednesdays, as no in-person learning will take place on that day in the hybrid model.

According to the South Portland School Department website, each school in the district is dividing student bodies into two groups, Cohort A, which will meet in-person on Mondays and Thursdays, and Cohort B, which will meet on Tuesdays and Fridays. Remote learning will take place for both cohorts on Wednesdays.

Because of the extra time that students will have at home, the district is working with Parks and Recreation and the Boys and Girls Club to provide care for families, especially those with children in Pre-K through grade 5, Mezzanotte said.

Parks and Recreation will have a usual before-school and after-school program, she said. There are slots for 20 students at each elementary school, 100 students in total.

On Wednesdays, Parks and Recreation will provide full-day care for 50 students at the recreation center, Mezzanotte said. While this programming comes with a fee, the district is looking into ways to subsidize the service.

Superintendent Ken Kunin answered questions about funding for the programs.

“There are funds available for child care but they’re income-eligible requirements,” he said. “Some families fall above that. In this version of the CARES Act and what the governor has pushed out, there aren’t any more available funds.”

The $5,000 allotment approved will “be helpful but isn’t very much,” he said.

Matthew Perkins, chair of the board, said that he thought any amount is worthwhile.

“I don’t know the last time we had to dip into contingency,” he said. “I, for one, am fully in favor of this. Any little bit we can do to help, I think, is important.”

Besides the Parks and Recreation option, Mezzanotte and administration has been simultaneously speaking with the South Portland Boys and Girls Club for additional support, she said. While not finalized yet, the organization will have space for 50 students a day and will break students up into learning pods.

When signups become available, the district will alert families, she said. They will take students on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The schools will provide transportation to the Boys and Girls Club, Mezzanotte said.

“That will be before or after our students are transported on the day kids are coming to school and then we’ll transport from the Boys and Girls Club back home,” she said. “It keeps kids in child care a bit longer, and it’s another barrier that families have and that’s transportation. To be able to provide transportation to families who need that, I think that’s a nice added benefit as well.”

Care for middle and high school students was briefly discussed, but securing options for elementary school students is the district’s biggest concern right now, Mezzanotte said.

“We do know that there’s a need, and there’s a need for supervision and there’s a need for educational supports,” she said. “So we’ll continue to work on seeing if we can provide programming through a community partnership to provide supports for middle school students, but we’re really working to provide care for our youngest students that can’t safely be home alone and need supports on their distance learning days when they’re not with their teachers.”

Parks and Recreation is working on programming for middle school and high school before-and-after-school care that will use the Red Bank facility, Mezzanotte said. The details are still in the works.

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