Updated with information clarifying that Kids Crew will still be offered at selected schools.
The Lynnwood Elementary Commons was standing-room only on Wednesday, March 6 as parents gathered to learn more about the new on-site child care and enrichment program the Edmonds School District plans to offer beginning with the 2019-20 school year. The Edmonds School Board approved a decision to contract with the Right at School program at its Feb. 26 school board meeting.
Right at School is a before- and after-school enrichment program that offers hands-on “disguised learning” — a technique used by educators to apply games and fun to teaching in a way that students do not realize they are learning. The goal is to provide subjects aligned with the district’s learning curriculum at an affordable price, district administrators said.
“It is all hands-on, socially-emotional, disguised learning,” Right at School Senior Director of School Partnerships Cindy Lawson told parents during the March 6 meeting. “We want children to fall in love with learning again.”
However, Lawson’s presentation was cut short by parents who were upset about the new program, which will be offered at each of the district’s 22 elementary schools. One parent who has two children at Cedar Way Elementary said he was concerned that the school district decided to change the family’s child care providers without consulting parents sooner.
“I feel a little stepped on for having that relationship that I’ve had for several years severed without my consent,” said Justin, who requested that his last name not be used. “I would have loved to have seen this (presentation) four months ago.”
For more than 20 years, organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA and the City of Mountlake Terrace’s Kids Krew have provided on-site child care at 13 of the 22 elementary schools in the Edmonds School District. However, a month ago the school district informed the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA that those organizations would no longer be able to provide on-site child care, said Superintendent Kris McDuffy.
“We care deeply about our partners,” she said. “We did a personal outreach to all of our current providers.”
Assistant Superintendent Justin Irish said the district’s primary decision to contract with Right at School was to provide equal access to affordable child care at every elementary school.
“We wanted to have a program where we have a guarantee there isn’t a waitlist,” he said.
Some families have been stuck on waitlists for on-site child care for three years, due to lack of staffing at child care programs, Irish said. He also said the school district is not licensed to provide fee-based child care and that is why the district decided to contract with Right at School.
“As a result, we are looking for outside experts who are able to provide that support to the community,” Irish said.
Unlike the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA, Kids Krew will still be offered at Mountlake Terrace Elementary School, Madrona K-8 and Terrace Park Elementary, said City of Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz.
“Our presence in the schools will be unaffected by the new contract Right at Schools has with the school district,” he said.
Right at School will be co-locating with Kids Krew at Mountlake Terrace Elementary and Terrace Park Elementary. Madrona K-8 will continue to offer only Kids Krew, due to enrollment not being large enough for two programs, Betz said.
The primary concern of parents angered by the school district’s decision was that they hadn’t been consulted about it beforehand. Several parents said they should have been allowed a chance to offer feedback on the decision.
District officials apologized for not communicating more with parents.
“I think we all do (apologize), in terms of process,” Superintendent McDuffy said. “If we could rewind the clock and have invested in a few of these kinds of forums to solicit more community feedback.”
McDuffy said the decision to contract with one child care program was in response to an outcry from parents who either could not afford child care or have a child enrolled at one of the nine schools where before- and after-school child care is not offered.
Though the Right at School Program boasts affordable monthly rates for child care on school days, non-school days require an additional fee. Rachel, a parent who has two children at Westgate Elementary School and did not want her last name used, said child care on non-school days is covered in her monthly fee at the Boys and Girls Club. She said the additional fees with Right at School will cost her thousands of dollars more in child care a year.
“How can you say affordability is a driver for this decision when the costs are so much higher?” she asked.
According to Area Director for the Boys and Girls Club Mike Neumeister, monthly fees for Right at School cost $150 to $225 more per month than fees for the Boys and Girls Club.
In a statement emailed to parents, the Edmonds School District also offered an apology for not reaching out to the families to hear concerns and suggestions before making a decision and assured parents it would do so in the future.
Though some parents were unhappy about the new program, Lawson said she has received more positive than negative feedback from parents in the Edmonds School District.
“Every family has a different need,” she said. “We can’t make everybody happy, but for the most part the majority that came out were positive.”
The Edmonds School District has posted a Right at School FAQ page on the school district’s website and more information about Right at School can be found at their website. For those wishing to offer comments, the next school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the Educational Services Center located at 20420 68th Ave. W., Lynnwood.
— Story and photos by Cody Sexton