VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Nolin Feller was blind sided this week when Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation announced 14 before- and after-school programs are being canceled due to staffing shortages.
Two of her sons attend Bayside Elementary, where the after-school program is being canceled effective January 3.
Feller described her reaction as "disbelief, fear, scrambling." About 300 kids are impacted by the cancellations.
Now, she and parents across the city are trying to find childcare for their children before the programs are canceled. Feller and her husband both work.
She created an account on care.com and is hoping to find a babysitter or nanny.
"Our plan is to continue with care.com for the next six weeks, hopefully finding us a sitter or a nanny. If not, we'll have to work it out with our jobs, potentially having to leave early and reduce our hours and cut into our income," she said.
Michael Kirschman, the director of Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation, says his department has been running the before and after-school programs at all of the city's elementary schools for decades, but right now the department is down about 50 part-time workers.
They've consolidated 19 of the programs down to 10 and closed the after-school programs at rec centers to help reallocate staff.
"It was a heart-wrenching decision," Kirschman said.
Parks and Recreation divides the city into five divisions and decided which programs to cancel based on how many kids are registered at each school, deciding to pick the ones with the lowest registration.
"The whole idea was to impact the fewest families as possible, although it's still over 300," said Kirschman.
Kirschman says the department needs 165 employees to operate in all 56 elementary schools but is down to 115. The jobs pay about $11 to $12 an hour. He's hopeful they'll get some more employees and the cancellations won't be so severe.
"We can't run a safe, quality program without staff," he said.
For now, at the schools where programs are being cut, Kirschman said the department is sending out links to help parents find childcare options, but there are no other internal options from the city being offered.
Following more than a year of uncertainty at schools due to the pandemic, these closures are now another obstacle for parents to navigate.
"It's just another blow," said Feller.