Ann Arbor parents mobilize to address lack of district childcare heading into fall

A child colors with crayons. (Pexels)

ANN ARBOR – A group of local parents has joined forces to find a solution for families in need of childcare before and after school this upcoming academic year after Ann Arbor Public Schools announced it will be doing away with the program for one year.

On May 12, the district made the announcement, which parent and local organizer Liz Lin remembers came as a shock to the community.

“They didn’t survey any parents,” said Lin. “It feels to me like the district feels disconnected from the realities of working families.”

Lin said she immediately spurred into action, creating a petition that quickly got 1,100 signatures. Still, the district remained firm in its decision to not offer before and after care.

The district later announced it would offer 36 spots in five of its elementary schools this fall including Abbot, Carpenter, Lakewood, Mitchell, and Pittsfield. In total, there are 19 elementary and K-8 schools in Ann Arbor.

“Priority will be given to AAPS staff and the rest will go to a lottery,” said Lin. “When you’re talking about 1,300 kids in before and after care pre-pandemic, it’s a drop in the bucket.”

According to the AAPS Rec & Ed website, it is currently hiring more before and after school care workers with the goal of adding childcare programming at more schools before the fall.

Lin, who serves on the board of Community Day Care, said she was contacted by city councilmember Linh Song about how to tackle the issue at the community level.

They held focus groups and soon more parents entered the fold, including local pediatricians Omkar Karthikeyan and Libby Hill, Ann Arbor Board of Education trustee Krystle DuPree and several local daycare providers.

In order to gauge the need for childcare this upcoming school year, they created a survey for AAPS parents of young children. The survey asks which school each child attends, whether they need before or after care and what potential drop off and pick up times would work for them. It also tries to assess how many students who need before and after care come from low income families.

“We convened childcare providers to coordinate but to also get a commitment to prioritize low income families so all the spots weren’t taken up by wealthy, well-resourced families right away,” said Lin.

“We heard from parents of over 430 students in the last three days. It’s not a small number, but I suspect it’s only about a third of parents who need care.”

The group is relying on social media, PTOs and community organizations to get the word out. They fear that asking principals to help spread the world could put them at odds with district leadership, said Lin.

To fill out the child care survey, click here.

For its part, AAPS Rec & Ed recently released its own survey requesting information from the community on how to best provide after school programming. To see that form, click here.

While childcare providers are currently coordinating to address the issue, the issue of capacity continues to arise.

“The district has really framed this as an opportunity for local businesses, but it’s not an opportunity anybody asked for,” said Lin, who said most daycares have had to dramatically reformat their programming over the past two years.

Aside from many daycares already being full, spaces must be licensed to run after school programs, said Lin.

“Finding spaces that are licensable that are within a reasonable distance from elementary schools is a challenge,” said Lin. “How do we safely transport hundreds of kids on and off site every day?”

She said if AAPS rents out school gyms it could solve the transportation issue, which comes with significant expenses.

As a first time parent in AAPS, Lin said she never planned on getting so involved with school issues.

“They keep alienating working families,” said Lin. “Parents are scrambling to move kids to different districts. In the end, people are going to do what they have to do.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.