When Claremont McKenna College announced July 1 that it would close The Children’s School for the 2020-2021 school year due to coronavirus concerns, many parents reacted to the news with frustration, confusion and concern for what the fall could hold for their families.
The Children’s School, a preschool and daycare that has been a unique part of the Claremont Colleges since it was opened in 1936, typically enrolls 70 children between the ages of 2 to 5. It is located just south of CMC’s senior apartments.
The school’s parents — many of whom are 7C faculty — are now scrambling for childcare options, as the coronavirus pandemic upends traditional systems of childcare and education throughout California. CMC’s decision to go online for the fall follows California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order to close many K-12 schools across the state following a spike of COVID-19 cases in the region.
Several TCS parents now worry about juggling their jobs and providing care to their young children. They’re also worrying about the broader implications of closing the school, which has operated for almost 85 years.
“TCS was a safe haven for our children and we felt so at ease entrusting our son to the staff,” Jessica ChenFeng, whose son attended TCS, said in an email. “To be told that the community/school your family relies upon for this kind of psychological security/safety for your child is no longer accessible — is hard to take.”
“The college leadership has expressed remorse that TCS will not open this school year,” CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby said via email. She added that CMC didn’t feel there was a way to operate the school in “a reasonably safe manner and in compliance with anticipated public health guidelines.”
In an email sent to TCS families July 9, CMC President Hiram Chodosh attributed the decision to public health concerns.
“As we thoughtfully assessed planning needs for the upcoming academic year, the College did not have the capability to develop sufficient health and safety protocols — and give the focused attention necessary — to provide a healthy and protected environment for children, staff, and families of [TCS],” Chodosh said.
The college currently plans to reopen TCS in the fall of 2021 if the public health situation improves by then, Silsby said.
In addition to worries about their own childcare and the TCS community at large, parents also expressed concern about the 16 staff members TCS employs. According to Silsby, the school’s staff will be laid off for the 2020-2021 school year.
In the July 9 email, Chodosh said that teachers will be paid their salaries through August along with “generous severance.” He also said he hopes that teachers have “adequate time to prepare contingency plans and tap into support resources from the College.”
But some parents worry that even if CMC chooses to reopen the school for the 2021-2022 academic year, many teachers may simply never return, which parents see as an irreversible loss.
“The loss of some of the most kind, patient, caring, professional and above all mindful teachers I have ever met means lasting damage to and loss of institutional memory,” Colin Robins said in an email he wrote to Chodosh shortly after the announcement. Robins is a TCS parent and an associate professor at the Keck Science Department.
With the potential loss of teachers, parents worry the TCS community their children grew accustomed to will deteriorate, even if the school resumes teaching in late 2021. Parents said they mourn the loss of the community the school provided.
“I guess the point is, it’s not just a preschool, right? It’s not just a childcare center,” said Josh Rogers, a TCS parent who drafted a petition asking CMC to reconsider the closure. “It really is an institution that has had continuity over 80 years, and it’s really [a] sort of miraculous, magical place that will be destroyed by them dismissing all of the teachers and sort of hoping for the best.”
Parents claim CMC did not indicate prior to July 1 that the college was considering shutting down the school for the entire academic year, and that the decision was made independent of teachers and parents.
“Our experience with The Children’s School has been one of open communication, understanding of emotional processes, deep respect for families, professionalism, warmth, and general good will,” ChenFeng said. “This email did not come across that way at all.”
ChenFeng argued that faculty and staff at TCS would not have allowed a closure to occur in such an “emotionally irresponsible way.”
“They have dedicated decades of their lives to TCS and our families/children and have done so in an honorable and respectful manner, upholding CMC’s reputation in the community,” she said. “They deserve a worthy celebration of their public service and this termination has robbed us all of that.”
In immediate response to the closure, some parents created a petition and wrote emails to Chodosh questioning the administration’s decision to shut down the school entirely.
The petition claims that the school should have considered further options before closing the school entirely. But many parents have stressed that their frustration isn’t with CMC’s decision to cease in-person instruction but instead with how the school went about communicating it.
Robins was disappointed CMC did not consult TCS community members in making the decision. He especially stressed the impact of the decision on 7C faculty members with children enrolled at TCS.
“The loss of some of the most kind, patient, caring, professional and above all mindful teachers I have ever met means lasting damage to and loss of institutional memory.” — Colin Robins, in an email to CMC President Chodosh.
“As Claremont McKenna faculty, I think making this decision without faculty input, and without due alternatives is troubling, shameful, and, simply put, wrong,” Robins wrote in his email to Chodosh. “It is not the decision of a family-friendly institution.”In an interview, Robins also expressed the difficulty of doing a job “that in the best of times is a 50 to 60 hour a week commitment,” while also caring for his children full time.
In response to parent concerns, Silsby said, “We know how special The Children’s School is to our community and the pressures placed on families due to the countywide closures of so many schools.”
“We decided to close The Children’s School for this school year because it was important to put the health and safety of our families and our staff first,” she said.
Some preschools in Claremont and the greater L.A. area will still be operating in the fall. The Temple Beth Israel Preschool in Pomona will begin the 2020-2021 school year in August with changes to meet health and safety guidelines, such as limited class sizes. The Early Childhood Center and Claremont Presbytarian Children’s Center have already reopened with safety precautions as well.
According to the petition, many of these local preschools are generally not accepting new students, “creating additional levels of stress and anxiety” for families.
“I would hope that the decisions about peoples’ lives should be more transparent, at least have some discussion, and I worry that I can no longer trust my administration to make those decisions,” Robins said.
Acevedo echoed a similar sentiment, saying she would have wanted CMC to consider a hybrid program or some form of virtual engagement for the children.
“I would’ve hoped towards some kind of community engagement, even if it’s a Zoom thing with your class teachers, something where the kids have something to look forward to, a way for them to interact,” she said.
“I feel like the school should have been reevaluating how to go on with the instruction, if maybe things improved,” she said.
CMC does not anticipate introducing online learning at TCS for the 2020-2021 year, according to Silsby.
Since the closure of TCS, four of the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges have closed their campuses for the fall semester, citing health concerns amid an unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County.
The loss of the preschool community, coupled with an ever-worsening pandemic, is now the main worry for several parents in the Claremont area.
“The hardest part is that we’re trying to navigate through a pandemic with two young children [while] trying to work full time,” Acevedo said. “We’ll figure it out as we go. But never did I expect the school to just get closed down. It’s a challenging year.”
This article was last updated August 8, 2020 at 1:20 p.m.