The Washington Post

Child-care delay in Montgomery tough on working parents

Wednesday was a doubly tough morning for many parents in Montgomery County: Not only was school unexpectedly closed because of the icy weather, but some school-based child-care operations did not open their doors as usual.

They were closed until 10:30 a.m. — 90 minutes later than some parents expected.

“It kind of makes me feel the school district is not concerned about the needs of working parents,” said Holly Donnelly, a Kensington mother of two who works in downtown Washington and waited at a bagel shop with her third-grade son until his school-based center opened.

Donnelly said she noticed almost no ice when she first walked outside at 6. She’d already received an e-mail about her son’s child-care center starting late. “If we can’t drop off until 10:30, I don’t get to work until 11:30, and I miss half my day,” she said.

Even in foul weather, Montgomery school-based child-care operations may stay open as part of a long-standing exception made in deference to working parents, officials said. As long as administrative offices are open at some point, child-care providers are allowed to open according to certain scheduling.

Montgomery schools officials said Wednesday’s schedule changes were not the result of a school district decision: County officials manage the use of school buildings for such activities, they said.

Ginny Gong, director of the county’s Office of Community Use of Public Facilities, said county officials made the move recently in order to improve consistency after some child-care providers raised questions about differing weather-related start times at schools.

For some parents, “I guess it was a surprise,” Gong said. “But certainly the intention was for better alignment, more consistency, between child-care providers.”

Gong said her office received one complaint Wednesday but had gotten a number of positive comments about the change from child-care providers. She called it “a clarification of a policy that has been in place for years.”

She said county and schools officials will meet soon to give the issue another look, keeping in mind the needs of child-care providers, parents, principals, building services staff and others. “We have to look at what would be a practical, reasonable time for all concerned,” she said.

Bob Sickels, owner of Kids After Hours, which has child-care centers in 19 Montgomery schools, said he heard “an overabundance of complaints and concerns” from parents Wednesday morning.

“My feeling is that there were a lot of people that were unhappy,” he said.

Sickels said he visited four of his school-based centers Wednesday and that staff at “every one said they had a line out the door at 10:31 of people waiting to come in.”

His centers typically open at 9 a.m. on days when schools are closed but administrative offices are open with a two-hour delay, as was the case Wednesday. That way, he said, parents can get to a job by 9:30 a.m. or 9:45 a.m.

“If you’re not getting to the office until 11, you’re getting there in time for lunch,” he said. “I think the policy is not thinking about working parents.”

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Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.

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