The Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education is weighing whether to reopen the Huskie Pups daycare program even as construction happens on campus and a pandemic has forced administrators to forego in-person classes and start the school year.
Since 2008, the school district has partnered with the River Forest Community Center, which operates the child care program at the high school. In turn, the Community Center houses the high school’s Community Integrated Transition Education (CITE) program at its River Forest location.
The program offers transition services for 18- to 22-year-old OPRF students who need intensive support during that point in their lives.
During the school board’s committee of the whole meeting on Aug. 18, Dick Chappell, the Community Center’s executive director, said that if the school board decides against reopening Huskie Pups, the 14 to 15 employees who staff the program will likely be laid off and parents/guardians who send their children to Huskie Pups would have to look for child care somewhere else.
“[Not reopening Huskie Pups] will be a tremendous expense for us as an organization,” Chappell told board members.
Chappell said he anticipates around 35 program participates if Huskie Pups, which is housed on the north end of campus, reopens — a significant drop from the 55 to 65 participants the program typically services.
Most of the participants are children of employees who work in Oak Park and River Forest public elementary schools. Seven are children of District 200 staffers, said Ronald C. Anderson, the Community Center’s executive director of operations.
But many school board members said they were concerned that reopening Huskie Pups would open the district up to potential liability. They added that reopening the daycare while OPRF’s special-needs students remain at home would present them with the challenge of explaining the discrepancy to special-needs parents, who were told by administrators earlier this year that their students would have a degree of in-person instruction.
Board member Jackie Moore asked administrators and Community Center staff how the district could reconcile closing the building to most OPRF students, particularly with construction onsite and COVID-19 still a risk, but nonetheless allow Huskie Pups to be in the building.
“Has there been a rationale for that?” she said.
“I echo Jackie’s concerns,” said board member Ralph Martire. “If we’re going to open our building to these students before we’ve opened it with a specific date for our special education students, we need to have a really good reason for why we haven’t reopened it for our special education students.”
Chappell said the Huskie Pups daycare would be located in an area away from construction and that the low participation total of 35 will allow for adequate social distancing.
He added that Community Center staff will follow safety protocols, such as setting up a sign-in station outside of the facility, beyond which no parents or guardians will be able to enter. Chappell also said all parents/guardians must sign a waiver specific to COVID-19 risks.
The board is expected to vote on whether or not to reopen Huskie Pups at a meeting on Aug. 27.