City day care program rolls out with waiting list

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/10/2020, 6 p.m.
The new school year launched Tuesday with all classes online in Richmond, but the promise of a robust, city-supported day ...

The new school year launched Tuesday with all classes online in Richmond, but the promise of a robust, city-supported day care program for children of working parents and for parents with weak links to the internet has yet to be fulfilled — and it is unclear when it will be.

As Mayor Levar M. Stoney announced Wednesday that the first two day care sites supported by city subsidies had opened, all 80 slots at the two sites being managed by the YMCA through its Student Success Program are already filled and have waiting lists.

Despite a rush to get more sites open, City Hall delivered its own blow to parents des- perate for a safe and secure space to leave their children and where students could be linked into virtual Richmond Public School classes under adult supervision.

Even as he talked up the need, Mayor Stoney kept silent on the internal decision blocking use of the city’s recreation centers as potential day care sites.

Fearing his staff could be infected by COVID-19, Christopher Frelke, director of the Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, issued a statement last week that he would not allow any use of the community centers that have been shuttered almost since COVID-19 arrived in Richmond around March 18.

Mr. Frelke, who for weeks led a city task force seeking to get the day care program underway, announced that the only help his agency would provide would be outdoor pop- up recreation programming for children and pre-teens from 4 to 8 p.m. on school days.

That program, for youngsters ages 6 to 12, launched Tuesday at 20 recreation centers. Mr. Frelke said it would run Monday through Friday, weather permitting, until Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, Mayor Stoney said that efforts continue to start day care in five buildings the Richmond School Board has agreed to allow. One hundred slots will be available at each, including Blackwell, Miles Jones and Linwood Holton elementary schools, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Huguenot High School.

He said the sites are expected to open sometime in September, but there are still some hurdles to opening before a specific date can be announced.

City Hall and RPS are still crafting a memorandum of understanding required by the School Board to determine the parameters of use, the mayor said. Also, the buildings would need to be disinfected once they are cleared for use.

According to Eva Colen, the mayor’s senior policy adviser, four of the buildings would be used for YMCA Student Success Centers. The Y started its city programs Tuesday using two churches, Movement Church on Patterson Avenue in the West End and Battery Park Christian Church on Brook Road in North Side.

As a result of the city’s subsidy, the cost to parents would be relatively inexpensive — $33 a week at maximum, with free service for children of people receiving Temporary Aid for Needy Families, food stamps or other government assistance.

Private providers without subsidy are charging at least $85 a week to provide places where children can attend virtual classes while their parents work.