COVID-19 infection rates mean the reopening schools for on-campus education remains at least a few months away in Los Angeles County. That has left many parents scrambling for options that will keep kids engaged–and offer child care during the workday. While some elite parents have opted for dedicated private tutors and at-home “learning pods,” for the majority of families those options are cost prohibitive.
Increasingly, families who can afford to are turning to “day camps” where, for a fee, educators will provide on-site supervision, help to children doing online class instruction, and additional enrichment activities. Many of these camps even take place on school campuses; when a provider is doing business as a paid camp, it is able to operate outside the regulations placed on schools.
“The plan was to apply for a waiver, but Los Angeles County said they’re not giving anybody waivers, so my school looked for loopholes,” a teacher at a private elementary school in Sherman Oaks told the Los Angeles Times. “Instead, they opened this camp.”
Day camps in California are almost entirely unregulated and require no specific licenses to operate. Public Health can inspect the facilities to confirm they are complying with certain minimum protocols—mostly mask wearing and six-foot spacing between desks—but otherwise have little oversight of the operations.
“There have been site visits to some of these schools to ensure that they are implementing the [county’s coronavirus] protocol with proper fidelity and are in compliance,” Public Health spokesperson Natalie Jimenez told the Times. “Beyond assuring compliance with our orders, Public Health does not have enforcement authority over whether a private school chooses to operate as a camp.”
The lack of regulation of day camps has come into question before. In 2015, two nine-year-old girls had to be medically airlifted out of a YMCA-sponsored day camp in San Diego County after instructors took children on a strenuous hike amid sweltering temperatures. The YMCA has been tapped by several schools as the third-party provider of pandemic-era day camp programs.
Participation in the school-like programs typically costs between a few hundred and several thousand dollars per month, the Times reports, which remains out of reach for many local families. Some say that may widen the gulf between haves and have-nots when full in-school instruction eventually resumes.
“This is a major equity issue,” UCLA education professor Tyrone Howard told the Times. “Someone needs to come out and say, there are kids who are not losing much of a step academically … and when we come back, we are going to have to pay a price to those children we failed.