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The AlphaBEST for SPS childcare

Suffolk Public Schools’ fall reopening plan approved by the School Board last week calls for childcare to be offered at all 11 of the division’s elementary schools through a partnership with AlphaBEST Education.

The plan calls for childcare to be provided from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for children ages 4 to 12 during virtual and hybrid learning models. The program would shift to before-and-after care when students return full time to in-person learning.

It will be free for staff members with children enrolled in division schools and available first to them, followed by disenfranchised students and other school-age children of SPS staff who live outside Suffolk, if space is available. More information about the program is at alphabest.org/suffolkva.

Initially, there will be 726 spots available for the program — 66 at each school. The application process is currently open for division staff members with children in SPS, and it will open to the public Aug. 21, according to AlphaBEST’s website. There would be no more than 10 students per room.

Once spots are filled, anyone else applying for the program will be put on a wait list, according to Wendy Forsman, the division’s chief financial officer. AlphaBEST and the principals of each school would then determine whether additional space would be available.

The AlphaBEST program would be required to comply with Virginia’s COVID-19 licensing regulations, and it would operate in designated spaces at the elementary schools. Custodial staff will disinfect child care areas every day.

Forsman said the division was concerned about staff members who would be required to come back to school and not have a childcare option for their school-age kids. Students of division employees would attend at no cost, though it is a taxable benefit for them and is required by the Internal Revenue Service.

“The amount of money that we pay out for that individual staff member for the childcare would be added to their check, taxed and then removed from their check as a deduction,” Forsman said. “There’s no additional money taken out of their check for the amount of money for the childcare. There’s no money added to their salary for the childcare. We would pay the bill centrally, but it would be taxable by the employee.”

The plan put forth by Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III and other administrators that the School Board unanimously adopted Aug. 6 calls for teachers to return to their schools to teach virtual lessons twice per week. The division’s proposal had called for teachers to be in their schools to teach the virtual lessons Monday through Thursday.

The division’s students will begin the first nine weeks with virtual learning — from Sept. 8 through Nov. 2.

Board member Tyron Riddick said he was concerned about instructional assistants and their role within the AlphaBEST program. Forsman said instructional assistants would be helping students get online, as AlphaBEST staff are not trained in the division’s Canvas program that it is using as part of virtual learning.

Gordon said instructional assistants would have input on their job duties, but he noted in their job description that it includes the provision that they would do “other duties as assigned,” and that some of them could be moved to elementary schools to support the AlphaBEST instructional model.

He also said the division was going to try this week to work on an instructional model that aligns AlphaBEST with the typical virtual instructional day.

AlphaBEST also operates in Portsmouth and in Prince William County in Northern Virginia, serving about 30,000 students in 14 states.