SCARBOROUGH — Local officials are moving forward with a plan to expand the town’s daycare services, but teachers who are also parents are still struggling on how to stay in school on days when their kids can’t.

Scarborough English Teacher Erin Bouchard with her twin 8-year-old daughters Elise, left, and Ella, on the first day of school in Buxton in 2019. Bouchard is taking a leave of absence from teaching in order to be able to watch her girls during remote-learning days. Courtesy / Erin Bouchard

The council is expected to vote on the matter following a hearing Wednesday, Sept. 9. Most likely, Scarborough will lease a building on Payne Road, formerly occupied by the House of Lights, as extra space, according to Community Services Director Todd Souza.

Town Council Chairman Paul Johnson said he is still concerned about how the program could be adjusted if the situation with the virus forced a new lockdown, but said he supported the program overall.

“I feel like we’re pretty much in a good spot,” he said.

Souza said the town has always offered before and after-school daycare in three elementary school buildings, the Wentworth School, and the Middle School.

Now, Souza said, the pandemic has put a strain on capacity. In a typical year, he said, the program has a capacity of 250 kids.

“Traditionally, we miss the marker, and we always have waiting lists,” he said.

This year, the pandemic is requiring social distancing in school buildings, which means the program can’t accommodate as many kids in the buildings. Souza said he estimates the capacity will be cut in half, and as of May 2020, he knew of at least 210 kids who were already registered.

The pandemic has produced another problem. Souza said Scarborough and many surrounding school districts have adopted a hybrid instruction plan, meaning kids will alternate between going to school in person and remote instruction at home. That means younger students will need supervision when they are not in school.

Exactly how many kids will need full-time care for part of the week is not clear, but Souza said after surveying parents of the 210 kids he knew were registered, at least 86 of those kids would need such care.

Krystal Ash-Cuthbert, president of the Scarborough Education Association, said this is a particularly bad situation for local teachers with children. Under the hybrid system the teachers must remain in school all week, even if their kids aren’t. She said she knew of at least 81 children of local teachers who would need all-day care for at least part of the week once school starts.

“Teachers have to make the hard decision between what is best for the children they teach, and the children that they gave birth to,” she said.

Ash-Cuthbert teaches at the Wentworth School, lives in Windham, and her 11-year-old is going to school under a hybrid system. That’s leaving Ash-Cuthbert scrambling for a care option.

“There are no childcare facilities that take 11-year-olds. None,” she said.

Some teachers, Ash-Cuthbert said, are taking a leave of absence, forcing the district to bring in less-experienced teachers to take their places. Ash-Cuthbert said she knew of at least five teachers who are taking leave, and as many as 10 more who are considering it.

Erin Bouchard is in her 20th year teaching English at Scarborough High School and this week she is preparing to go on leave for 12 weeks under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. She said she has to, because her twin 8-year-old girls go to school in Buxton, which also uses a hybrid system. Her husband works five days a week as a physical therapist, so if she doesn’t stay home, she said, no one can watch her girls on remote-learning days.

“It’s been one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my entire professional career,” she said.

Bouchard said she appreciated what the town was doing to expand day care, but she was concerned about whether there would be enough space, whether her kids, who were not from Scarborough, would get along with kids they didn’t know, and how remote learning would be possible to Buxton from a daycare center in Scarborough. For her, she said, there are too many unknowns, so she will stick with the plan to go on temporary leave.

“It’s the only real ‘safe,’ clear-cut option,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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