After a hiatus due to pandemic-related school closures, Fairfax County is not only reviving its School Age Child Care (SACC) program, but expanding it with two new locations, both of them in Herndon.
With Fairfax County Public Schools planning for five days of in-person learning starting Aug. 23, the county-run child care program will be available at 142 schools, including new centers at Clearview and McNair Upper elementary schools, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay announced yesterday (Thursday).
“We hope to quell some anxiety today and give our working parents in particular confidence knowing that the Fairfax County government and our Fairfax County Public Schools have worked very closely together over many months to ensure that our kids can return to school and return to our SACC program,” McKay said.
SACC provides before and after-school care for children from kindergarten through sixth grade. Run by the Fairfax County Office for Children, the program operates out of public elementary schools as well as the Key and Kilmer centers, which focus on youth aged 5-21 with multiple disabilities.
As a result, when FCPS initially closed school doors as COVID-19 spread in March 2020, SACC centers were shuttered as well, leaving many families to juggle full-time work and a bumpy introduction to virtual learning on their own.
The county resumed offering some child care services in the summer of 2020 with its Camp Fairfax program, which serves first through seventh graders. The day-long camps were held in school buildings with social distancing and other health measures in place.
When FCPS opted for an all-virtual start to the 2020-2021 school year, the county launched a new Supporting Return to School (SRS) program that essentially functioned like a full-day version of SACC, providing care before and after school hours along with distance learning support.
According to McKay, the Camp Fairfax and SRS sites were chosen based on where the need for child care services was greatest, focusing on children whose parents were unable to stay at home with them or who otherwise lacked structured support during the day.
Just over 1,000 children have enrolled in Camp Fairfax, which returned this summer with smaller sites, Office of Children Director Anne-Marie Twohie said at yesterday’s news conference, which was held at one such site in Centreville’s London Towne Elementary School.
In comparison, the program typically drew over 4,000 children before the pandemic.
McKay says the Camp Fairfax and SRS programs helped the county understand how child care could be provided safely, experience that will be crucial when the full-scale SACC program starts next month.
“The need for high-quality school-age child care has indeed never been greater, and the extended site availability this year will help meet these needs,” said Fairfax County School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky, who represents the Sully District.
Twohie says SACC rooms are generally added in conjunction with elementary school construction and renovation projects.
“We are continuing to build toward normalcy, full school days, full SACC programs, the freedoms that we’ve enjoyed over the last several months,” McKay said. “We have to, as a community, roll up our sleeves, get to those remaining people who aren’t vaccinated, get them vaccinated so we can continue down the right path in Fairfax County.”
While FCPS isn’t requiring vaccinations for students or staff, the school system said earlier this week that everyone must wear face masks when students are inside school buildings, regardless of their vaccination status.
Noting that at least 90% of teachers and staff are vaccinated, Pekarsky suggested that FCPS could follow the county government’s lead in potentially instituting a vaccine mandate for its employees at some point.
“We are continuing to offer our teachers the opportunity to get vaccinated,” she said. “We will collaborate with county government to explore if we will make them mandatory sometime in the future, but right now, they are not.”
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