Childcare Scramble: South Seattle Parents Transform Homes Into Daycares During Teacher Strike

by Marilee Jolin

My phone rang Tuesday evening and I immediately recognized the number.  “This is an important message from Seattle Public Schools” the metallic voice cooed and then informed me there would be no school tomorrow due to the failed negotiations between SPS and the Teachers’ Union.   “Please visit the Seattle Public Schools website,” the message said, “for a list of childcare options.”  

I didn’t go to their website.  I went to the texting app on my smart phone and starting tapping away to my family in the area, my boss and my husband.  I’m lucky: my husband and I both have flexible, well-paying jobs as well as reliable extended family living nearby.  It took approximately 15 minutes to rearrange my schedule and arrange childcare for my kids for the rest of the week.  

Many families in the Seattle Public have these kind of luxuries; jobs that can shift to “working from home” pretty easily, flexibility on timing and/or extended family to help out.  And according to my Facebook feed, most of these families support the strike.  For them, the sentiment is reflected well in the thoughts of Tanisha Felder, a teacher at ORCA Elementary and mother of an incoming 3rd-grader: “Ultimately, we believe this strike is important…A little inconvenience now will hopefully lead to better outcomes for teachers and students.”  

But for other SPS families, it is more than a little inconvenience.  I spoke with a neighbor who reminded me of the challenge posed to families on single-incomes or struggling financially in other ways.  After stating her support for the teachers she admitted that the unexpected childcare costs were potentially crippling for her and her daughter.  “If I take two unpaid days off work, I have to find a new way to pay the rent this month” she confided.  

There are childcare options, of course.  Many City of Seattle Parks and Rec programs are extending their before and after school care programs into full-day programs.  The Seattle Public Schools website. lists contingency plans for school-based child care programs many of which will offer full-day care starting Wednesday, Thursday or next week, if the strike continues.  As of Wednesday morning at 9:20am, however, there was no contingency plan listed or no childcare available for Dearborn Park, Van Asselt and ORCA among others.  Worst case, parents can also call City of Seattle’s Childcare Hotline at 206-386-1050.

Some SPS parents are taking a more creative approach.  A post to a private Facebook page suggested childcare swapping this week for families affected by the strike.  The poster noted which days she was available to watch others’ children and which days she’d need care for her son.  She concluded with this: “Let me know if you are interested in working together on this. I would love to see us help each other through the inconvenience of a strike while standing behind our teachers in their struggle.  Go Teachers, Go!”  

I found this response inspiring and, while her days for childcare need did not fit with my own, her post encouraged me to reach out to my neighbor whose rent was in jeopardy – offering to watch her daughter one day this week.  Perhaps this inconvenience – which is much more than an inconvenience for many families – could be an opportunity to come together across the economic and cultural lines that so often divide us.  We have a lot of resources in Seattle Public Schools – a lot of families who can afford to take a day or two off work – and many who cannot.  When those two kinds of families come together, something beautiful can happen.  

Let’s come together at this time of struggle and support each other, build bridges and be on the same team.  That way we can all get back to the “normal” of school and work.  It is my hope that, in taking the time to help each other through this crisis, we could create a “new normal”, one in which SPS parents are more connected to each other and we are all a stronger community.  

Marilee Jolin writes regularly for the Emerald. She currently lives in Beacon Hill with her husband and two daughters.