Natalia Chacon is determined not to let her six-year-old granddaughter spend the next three weeks in front of a screen.
“It’s just something we all have to get through,” she said. “You’ve got to keep them active.”
She’s planning art projects, baking days and a few hours with math and reading workbooks.
Like many grandparents across the Sacramento region, Chancon is stepping in to help with child care while school is out of session due to the COVID-19 threat.
Beginning Monday, the 13 school districts in Sacramento County will close campuses and facilities to students for up to three weeks to combat transmission of coronavirus.
There are about 400 schools in Sacramento County, which serve almost 245,000 students, according to Superintendent of Schools Dave Gordon. Each school district can make its own decision about when to invite students back.
In a statement, the Sacramento County Office of Education said, “this decision was not made lightly as all districts recognize this may cause a hardship for some families.”
With neighboring districts in Placer and Yolo counties shutting down until April 12 and Catholic schools closing for at least two weeks, thousands of school-aged children will be home and in need of supervision.
Some parents are attempting to watch children while working from home, others are relying on nannies, family members and friends. Scientists say children are not particularly susceptible to the disease, but they could spread it to their elderly relatives, who are at the highest risk of fatality from COVID-19.
Parents who must report to work and don’t have family support or paid time off may have to choose between paying for child care or losing a day’s wages to watch the kids.
Noraly Guerrero said she had to move quickly to get her four-year-old signed up for day care after hearing that her pre-school had closed. She’s a little nervous about her daughter and younger son being around other kids, but says she still needs to show up at the legal services firm where she works.
“I’m not sure if they’re going to have us work from home,” she said. “I have had some people tell me you shouldn’t take her to day care for a bit, but then what am I gonna do?”
About half of California school districts are closed and 80 to 85 percent of students are out of school, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Last week, he issued an executive order directing schools to provide "distance learning and high quality educational opportunities.” The order included funding for those activities, plus school meals and “as practicable, supervision for students during school hours.” In a press conference this weekend, he did not move to cancel school statewide.
School-provided breakfast and lunch is a main source of nutrition for many children across the Sacramento region. The Sacramento County Office of Education says it will make those meals available for children, but has not yet released details on how and when food will be available for low-income families.
Meanwhile, some teachers are wondering how they’ll make ends meet while schools are closed down. Part-time and substitute teachers typically don’t have the same paid time off benefits as full-time educators.
“My initial reaction was, ‘How am I going to pay my bills’?”, said Karen Bombardier, a substitute for the San Juan Unified and Washington Unified school districts.
“As a substitute, I live pretty paycheck to paycheck, and even some months that paycheck isn’t quite enough,” she said. “So to not only be worried about your income on a monthly level, anyway, but then on top of that not having that income, is terrifying,” she said.
After she heard the news of the closures, she took to social media to seek out babysitting and tutoring jobs. She got a flood of responses, and she’s starting with at least one family this week.
“I would love to watch your children,” she said. “I’m qualified, I’m available.”
Bombardier’s also waiting to hear from the schools about whether substitute teachers will be hired to put together homework packets and finish other organizational tasks while classes are out of session.
In the meantime, families across the region are figuring out what life without school looks like for the foreseeable future.
Kids will have to adjust, too. Chacon said her granddaughter enjoys school and will likely miss her classes.
“She brought it to our attention ... that the coronavirus was going around, and that she needed to wash her hands all the time,” Chacon said. “For a six-year-old to say that she needed to have a conversation with mom and Grammy, that’s something else. She’s very aware of it.”
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