As the coronavirus that has captured the world’s attention continues to spread, school districts across the world—particularly in areas with confirmed cases of the virus—are considering the possibility of shutdowns. And working parents of young children are asking themselves what in hell they’re going to do with their kids, if the schools close.
A smattering of schools across the U.S. have already shut down in response to local cases of the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, and it’s likely more will follow suit as the disease spreads. But just because the schools close down doesn’t mean you can press pause on your employment. So now is the time to start planning for a coronavirus childcare contingency plan.
Start at work
You may be among the luckiest in this situation if you have an office job that allows you to work remotely as needed. If that’s you, check in with your boss about whether working from home indefinitely is an option if schools close and get prepared with any equipment or materials you might need to do so.
But many workers don’t have that flexibility, so ask your boss now what the company’s policy will be in the event of a school shutdown. If the schools close, will the business follow suit? Will you have to use up vacation time or sick leave? (If so, double-check now how much you have.) Will they provide employees with extra sick leave? Will you need to take time off without pay if you have to stay home with your kids? If they’re a parent, what is their plan?
Call on your village
The good news is, you’re not alone. If schools shut down, you will be one of many scrambling to find daytime childcare options. Reach out to other parents of your kid’s friends to ask what their plans are—perhaps you can switch off babysitting duties with another parent or two or maybe one parent has a responsible teenager who could step up in a pinch.
Ask extended family members or neighbours whether they have any flexibility in their schedules should you run out of options. You’ll want to avoid large gatherings or group activities—the whole point is to slow the spread of the disease—but if you or your partner can’t watch your kids and they’re not old enough to stay home alone, you’re going to need back-up.
Keep tabs on what the school district is saying
If you don’t already follow your child’s school or school district on social media, now is the time. You’re likely to find the most up-to-date information about school closures there—and many schools are already talking about how they’ll make the call and are considering online learning options to keep lessons going as much as possible if they close.
If it’s radio silence from your district so far and especially if you’re in an area where cases of the disease have been confirmed, reach out to school administration or district leadership to ask what’s being considered.