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State flexibility supports 21st CCLC ability to adapt to COVID Emergency

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State flexibility supports 21st CCLC ability to adapt to COVID Emergency

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

As governors, state agencies, and school districts across the U.S. grapple with school closure decisions, the afterschool programs that provide out-of-school time academic support and the child care working parents need are also finding their place.

There are many diverse needs to balance, for communities, families, programs themselves (both closed and in operation), and program staff. Communities need to ensure emergency workers have access to quality child care, manage social distancing requirements, and retain and compensate program staff in temporarily-closed programs so they can be ready to fill an important role in helping the county get back to work when the crisis dissipates. Meanwhile, families with children at home need meal and lesson plan delivery, as well as liaisons between programs and their households to check in on how the family is faring and sharing information about where to get services and resources (including details about whether their schools and afterschool programs are shut down). Afterschool programs that are still operating need lower ratios of staff to students to keep group sizes down, both more cleaning supplies and more frequent cleaning processes, and access to meals and engaging academics and activities. And program staff that choose to serve the children of health care professionals and other essential front-line workers need to be treated as essential employees themselves, with health care, training, and freedom to take sick leave or family leave or personal leave when they need it, and hazard pay for their work.

And that’s just the beginning.

But even with much to consider and an ever-changing landscape, afterschool programs in some communities are already recognizing needs and taking action, employing their empathy and ingenuity to fill necessary gaps in their communities as the emergency continues.

  • Mariposa Kids in San Francisco, where schools have closed, has been offering virtual afterschool including enrichments, physical activities, and art contests to stay connected with students, help for parents at home, and suggestions to keep minds and bodies engaged. 
  • A YMCA in Rogue Valley, Oregon, is keeping its doors open to help children of emergency personnel, and a local children’s museum has stepped in to help the YMCA with “grab and go” activities tailored to best practice such as remaining in small groups.
  • A Boys & Girls Club in Palm Beach County, Fla. is helping local farms get produce and meals to local families through a “Farm to Family” program.

Flexibility, within the bounds of precautionary safety, is necessary at times like these. Recognizing the important roles afterschool programs can play in devising community solutions, state agencies have begun posting what flexibility they can offer to local programs, including issuing guidance policies around 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC), the federally funded afterschool programs that support quality afterschool academics and enrichment for low-income students and family engagement for their parents.

States’ 21st CCLC guidance includes:

  • Ensuring all employees can continue to be paid
  • Basing program pay on enrollment rather than attendance
  • Defining allowable work to include
    • On-line programming,
    • Virtual staff meetings and professional development,
    • Curriculum and lesson plan design and development,
    • Supporting meal distribution,
    • Planning,
    • Providing student or parent social emotional and well-being supports,
    • Family education and engagement such as information on resources to access during the emergency,
    • Helping to gather and disseminate materials and information,
    • And other reasonable and necessary roles under school closure.
  • Reducing requirements on the number of program hours or number of students who must be served
  • Providing an update on expectations for monitoring
  • Extended deadlines for new grant applications and/or reporting submissions

Some state examples include Ohio and Montana. In total, about 15 states have already released guidance and the number continues to grow.

The U.S. Department of Education should also step in and provide additional guidance and flexibility to support the work of state education agencies as they work with 21st CCLC afterschool providers.

The crisis requires running just to stay in place: making sure children and young people are cared for, program staff are retained for future need, academics and enrichments are provided equitably, food is getting to where it’s needed, emergency personnel can continue to do their necessary work, and more. Afterschool programs are community partners situated in the unique space between families, schools, and communities, which allows them to solve unique problems when given the flexibility to do so.

We will continue to follow how states and afterschool programs are responding to the COVID-19 emergency. As always, we are eager to hear from you and learn how your programs can better supported to help meet the needs of children, families, and communities. 

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