LAUSD teachers scramble to find child care for own kids as they prepare to head back to campuses

As teachers for the Los Angeles Unified School District prepare to return to campus in several weeks as in-person instruction likely resumes, many are scrambling to figure out child care arrangements for their own children.

petition that’s been circulating in recent days calls on the district to grant educators with young children waivers to continue teaching remotely from home for at least the rest of this school year — similar to accommodations being made for certain employees with health issues. The petition was launched Sunday and had been signed by more than 1,200 people by Wednesday afternoon, March 17.

In addition to allowing teachers with child care issues to continue working from home for the rest of this term, educators say they want the district to expand its Beyond the Bell program so more employees can benefit from it.

Currently, the program provides on-campus supervision to students in elementary and middle school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., but some teachers must be in their classrooms before 8 a.m., they said. Additionally, only students enrolled in an LAUSD school can be in the program, leaving out children in private schools and those too young to be in transitional kindergarten.

Tomia Mitchell-Haas, a teacher at Hale Charter Academy in Woodland Hills, has three children, ages 13, 4 and 2. She said she and her colleagues have looked into outside day care options, but due to reduced capacity at many sites because of health and safety restrictions related to COVID-19, space is more limited than usual.

She’s also heard from others, she said, who pulled their children out of day care last year at the start of the pandemic and have since lost their spots. Now, to re-enroll in day care, they’ll have to go back on the wait list.

“People aren’t realizing what the situation is,” Mitchell-Haas said. “There’s been a lot of pressure to open up schools. A lot of parents do need to send their kids to school … but also they’re not really thinking too much about the (teachers) who have to work and don’t have a school to send their kids to right now.”

Maya Suzuki Daniels, a teacher at San Pedro High School who started the petition, said colleagues have checked with day care facilities within a 40-mile radius of their homes, only to be told that all places have a wait list. Some facilities have closed down since the pandemic, some are experiencing staffing shortages and others are raising their rates, she said.

The district and United Teachers Los Angeles reached a tentative agreement to return to in-person instruction last week. The school board has ratified the deal, and UTLA members — which include teachers, counselors, school nurses and other certificated employees — will be voting this week on whether to support it.

If the agreement is fully ratified, the district is looking at a mid-April reopening for elementary schools and to welcome middle and high school students back around late April.

Given that teachers only have about a month to figure out their child care situations and that there will be just several weeks left in the academic year by the time classrooms reopen, both Mitchell-Haas and Suzuki Daniels said the district should allow teachers with child care issues to finish out the term working from home. That would buy them a few months to arrange for child care before fall semester.

For Suzuki Daniels, taking a leave of absence from work for the rest of this school year isn’t an option because, she said, she used up her accrued time off when she went on maternity leave. Now, she fears, either she or her husband may have to quit their job to care for their 1-and-a-half-year-old son. She’s hoping it won’t come to that but is bracing herself to make the tough call.

“I don’t want people to have to choose between their jobs and their children,” she said. “I love teaching, but I can find another job. I can’t find another child.”

Having taught for eight years, Suzuki Daniels is also concerned that other colleagues similarly situated will quit, which could result in an exodus of a number of experienced educators.

A spokeswoman for LAUSD said in an email the district is aware of the concerns raised and are looking into the matter.

UTLA, meanwhile, issued a statement saying “society must do more to address affordable child care options … but this problem can’t be resolved in UTLA and LAUSD’s hybrid return agreement.”

The union is advocating for the district to accommodate employees with child care needs and said LAUSD should survey employees to find out how many would require accommodations.

“Women make up 70% of the teaching profession, and as such, UTLA calls on the state legislature and congress to proactively work to provide better childcare support for all working families in California,” the union said.

Suzuki Daniels said she’s hoping this dilemma will move the district to provide expanded child care options in the fall for its employees.

It bothers her, as a woman of color — Suzuki Daniels is Japanese, Filipino and White — to feel like once again, a section of the workforce is forced to make sacrifices.

“We’ve seen millions of women leave the workforce” during the pandemic, she said. “We are looking at an unemployment crisis.”

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