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School Districts Step Up for Children of Essential Workers

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 15:57
The Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center is working with the East Hampton School District to provide care for children as young as 18 months.
Christine Sampson

Some South Fork school districts and day care centers are answering Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s call to help parents and caregivers who are first responders, health care workers, and other essential employees during the COVID-19 response.

The Bridgehampton School District on Monday began its own program in which parents can take their school-age children as young as 3 years old to be cared for by the school’s own teachers from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. They will receive meals from the school cafeteria and snacks donated by the First Baptist Church of Bridgehampton. The program is free, and the teachers are volunteering their time.

"I think it's going to become more and more urgent for people, especially those who are told they have to come to work and whose children are home," said Robert Hauser, Bridgehampton's district superintendent. "We make it work."

There were five children in the program on the first day at Bridgehampton.

Starting Wednesday, the East Hampton School District and the Springs School District will work with the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center to provide care for children as young as 18 months old. Students now enrolled at the center are eligible, as are the children of employees in the fields designated by Governor Cuomo as essential. Attendance is $60 per child per day, which runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Those interested in signing up can email Robyn Mott, the program director, at [email protected].

Essential employees include doctors and nurses, utility workers, bus drivers, home health aides, grocery store staff, food service workers, bank tellers, auto mechanics, truck and bus drivers, postal employees, and residential and commercial cleaners, among others. For the Eleanor Whitmore program, parents must show identification proving they hold positions in those industries.

"We've been serving this community for 50 years, and it is the right thing to do," Katy Graves, the center's executive director, said Monday.

The center normally serves children up to 4 years old, "but because this is a state emergency we submitted a waiver, and it was approved, to take school-aged children," Ms. Graves said. The staff will perform basic wellness checks each day to make sure children are healthy.

The Sag Harbor School District has signed an agreement with SCOPE, a countywide provider of child care services, but will not host the service at any of its own facilities. Jeff Nichols, the Pierson High School principal and interim district superintendent, said the school had not received word of an East End site yet. No further information was immediately available.

At the Montauk Playhouse Community Center, a day care facility operated by the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk has a smaller-than-usual staff taking care of fewer children. Carol Kelly, its director, said it can accommodate 54 children from 6 weeks to 5 years of age and normally averages 30 children, but only five were there on Monday. Last week there were eight or fewer. The program is open to its usual families as well as children of first responders and health care workers.

"It's obviously important to [them] that they don't have to worry additionally about their own children while they're out there taking care of everyone else," Ms. Kelly said. "It also gives the children consistency so that things are unchanged in their daily life."

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