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Recent school closures because of the COVID-19 outbreak have left some area parents scrambling to find other modes of child care.
In response to what is being called a “public health emergency” in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker announced that all schools for kindergartners through high school students should remain closed through April 8.
Ashlee Clark, a single mom from Crystal Lake who works for a State Farm agent’s office in Cary, knows about this struggle.
Before the coronavirus, her 9-year-old daughter, who goes to Coventry Elementary School in Crystal Lake, took part in the Crystal Lake Park District’s Extended Time program that allows students to stay at school earlier or later while being cared for by Park District staff. Her 19-month-old daughter goes to a private at-home day care.
And as long as no symptoms are being shown by her youngest child, the 19-month-old still was able to go to her regular day care provider through Friday, Clark said.
But now, because of the coronavirus, her 9-year-old daughter cannot go to school, and the Extended Time program, conducted in conjunction with area schools, has been canceled.
Jason Herbster, executive director of the Crystal Lake Park District, said parents will not be billed for the time that Extended Time is shut down.
“We’re not going to be billing any families for services they’re not getting,” he said.
Clark’s mom lives in Addison, which is an hour away, and her mom is immunocompromised, as she had sepsis last year. Although her father is nearby, he’s recovering from cancer and also works side jobs.
“[My mom] helps me out part time, but she’s not able to do it for weeks on end,” Clark said.
Although Clark is the sole provider for her children, her youngest child’s dad is very involved, she said. However, he owns his own business and can’t really take time off work.
Clark’s mom said she can take Clark’s oldest daughter over spring break, and her dad offered to care for her, too. In addition, Clark said her boss has been “amazing,” as her boss also has young kids and understands the struggle.
Clark’s youngest daughter’s babysitter also has reached out to her, saying they can work something out so she doesn’t have to pay more.
“God bless her,” Clark said. “People are still good out there; [they’re] trying to help people out, but it’s definitely a panic. What am I going to do? How many days am I going to have to miss, or how long is this going to go on for?”
“It’s hard,” Clark said in an interview March 14. “It was hard to sleep last night. ... I didn’t think things were going to go as fast as they did this week, and they did. On Monday, I didn’t think that the schools were going to close by Friday.”
Clark said she hasn’t had anybody in her house to watch her kids before, and with everything going on, she’s not comfortable with anybody coming to the house.
“There’s a lot of great people offering on Facebook, but nobody who I personally know or I would drop my kid off with,” Clark said.
She said another consideration would be if she even has the money to pay someone new to watch her daughter, as she already is paying for child care with the Park District.
Jasmine Shannon, another parent who relates to these challenges, lives in Lake in the Hills with her husband and two sons, ages 6 and 7, who go to Chesak Elementary School.
Shannon works as a part-time pharmacy technician in Huntley. Before, she was able to work her schedule so her kids were at school while she was at work; however, that now will not be an option.
Like other parents after school closures were announced, Shannon put a message on a Facebook group looking for a babysitter and had a couple of people reach out.
Shannon said their rates were $10 to $12 an hour, however, and although she understands, that amount is almost equal to what she is paid at her job, meaning she would have to take a financial hit to hire them.
When the school closures were announced, Shannon was shocked.
“I wasn’t too worried because I don’t work very often during the week,” Shannon said. “Of course, this first week I was scheduled two days during the week, and I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ ”
Shannon said she didn’t want to take time off because she just started at her job, and she knows people need medication.
Luckily for Shannon, her husband works for a company that will allow him to work remotely, giving her some relief.
“It’s constant chaos, but thankfully he can go in [another] room [and] close the door,” she said. “They’ll be pretty good for a little while if we need them to.”
Kim Slater is an account representative from Woodstock whose daughter goes to Neubert Elementary School in Algonquin.
“I’ve been using my paid time off the two days that I was gone [from work] because I didn’t have anybody else to watch her,” Slater said.
Although her daughter usually goes to Kindercare in Algonquin, which still was open through Friday, Slater’s daughter has a barking cough, so she is staying home.
“I have no choice,” Slater said, adding that she doesn’t want her daughter to get other kids sick.
In a letter on its website, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services asked child care centers deciding whether they should close to consider if they serve many parents who still need to work outside of their homes.
Melissa Norman, executive director of Hearthstone Early Learning Center in Woodstock, said they make the best decisions they can based on the information they have at the time, although it’s hard to make long-term plans at this point.
Hearthstone cares for children ages 6 weeks old through 12 years old.
Norman said as long as the center can be there responsibly for parents who are first responders, grocery clerks, health care providers and others, they will be.
Hearthstone has communicated with the Illinois Department of Human Services, DCFS, the McHenry County Department of Health and other agencies, Norman said.
“On a normal, daily basis, we have to clean and keep everything sanitized,” she said. “Our No. 1 defense here always is [to] wash your hands ... and then, of course, the extra cleaning and the social distancing as much as we can.”
Norman said despite schools being closed, business still has been level for the center.
“I do think a lot of people are taking this very seriously and trying to utilize the care they have to keep their families safe,” Norman said. “That looks different for every family. ... We just have to support each other through this and respect each other.”