As most schools in Philadelphia prepare for a virtual start, working parents who are scrambling for childcare options may have a lifeline.
City leaders on Thursday said 31 drop-off sites will open Sept. 8 at recreation centers, libraries and Philadelphia Housing Authority facilities across the city to serve K-6 students from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Families will be required to register for the free program.
Initially, 800 slots will be available, though city leaders anticipate expanding the program before the end of September if there is enough demand.
Priority will be given to caregivers who work outside the home and are not able to afford childcare, as well as those who do not have internet access at home. Officials did not say whether there would be income requirements.
Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa said parents should not ditch current arrangements in favor of trying to send their kids to the sites, which the city is calling “Access Centers.”
“We are really trying to target those where they have absolutely no options available,” she said.
Applications will ask families how they have been handling childcare during the pandemic, Figueroa said.
Officials said they do not know how many families need the program and that they will be watching the application period closely to monitor interest.
“I think it’s going to be significantly larger than 800,” said School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite.
District schools are going to be starting with 100% virtual classes, while some private schools, including those connected with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, will be utilizing in-person or hybrid plans. Access Centers will be open to all students in the city.
Figueroa said officials hope to have at least 50 centers operating by October and could begin expanding before Sept. 21. A number of community and religious organizations have also stepped up to offer similar programs, she added.
As additional phases are rolled out, parts of public school buildings may also be used as drop-off locations, Hite said.
City leaders stressed that the Access Centers are not stand-ins for schools, so they will not feature specialized instruction or be staffed by teachers.
Employees from the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Free Philadelphia of Philadelphia and city-sponsored after-school programs will supervise children as they complete their coursework. Students will participate in supplemental activities and receive lunch.
The centers will observe COVID-19 protocols, including temperature checks every morning, according to information distributed by the city. Social distancing, mask-wearing and deep cleaning will also be incorporated.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the facilities will follow guidelines that were previously laid out for schools.
Students will be kept in cohorts of 22 to 25. Most sites will have one group, and larger buildings that do have multiple groups will not intermingle or use the same bathrooms, officials said.
Transportation to and from the Access Centers will not be provided. Families will be instructed to have students bring in their school-issued Chromebooks or other devices.
The program is targeting families who need childcare five days a week but will accommodate caregivers who drop off their students at least three days a week.
Applications will be available this week, officials said.
Families without internet may also be able to qualify for a recently-announced program to provide up to 35,000 households with a broadband connection. Additional details on how to sign up are also expected sometime this week.
For a list of Access Centers, go to www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-children-and-families.