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Working Parents Face Crunch: What to Do With the Kids

January 9, 1996

BOSTON (AP) _ Mary Jane Pontes had spent two snow days at home with her kids, and she was already eager to get back to work _ as a schoolteacher.

``Today I’m sort of wishing that I was spending my day with 22 kids in the classroom instead of my three,″ she said. ``Even they’re saying they’re sick of it.″

At least Pontes could watch over her own children without penalty. When the blizzard closed schools Monday and Tuesday from Virginia to Massachusetts, other parents had to make hard choices between going to work and staying home with their kids.

Many parents tried frantically to find a place to leave their children.

``We haven’t had something like this in, I can’t even remember when,″ said Marsha Cooper, managing director of Caregivers on Call, a New York-based emergency baby-sitting service that was flooded with appeals for help from parents _ at a price of more than $85 a day for in-home baby-sitting. ``Everybody calling in is giving clear indications that the reason is the snow.″

Medical student John Langell, faced with such a problem, took his children, Michael, 9, and Ashley, 8, with him to the hospital where he works in Philadelphia.

``They’ve been having fun,″ said Langell, a former Southern Californian.

In the Washington area, many businesses and government offices still were closed Tuesday, and parents simply stayed home with their children. But Mothers’ Aides Inc., a baby-sitting service in suburban Fairfax, Va., said bookings are pouring in for the end of the week.

Experts said the scramble for child care during recent snowstorms pointed out clearly some of the trends of the ’90s: more parents working, more of them single and simply more kids, thanks to a baby boomlet.

``There definitely are many more problems for families when schools close than there used to be,″ said Thomas Consolati, president of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. His own Southern Berkshire Regional School District remained closed Tuesday, after the huge East Coast storm that dumped more than 2 feet of snow in many locations Sunday and Monday.

``We do get questioned more frequently when we close school, and it’s usually because of the inability to secure safe and appropriate child care,″ Consolati said. ``Parents are caught between the problem of responsibility at work and responsibility at home.″

School officials said they are trying to give more warning of school closings, generally as early as the night before.

Some employees also make provisions for snow days.

The publisher Little Brown and Co. subsidizes emergency baby-sitting.

``The one thing you can’t plan for is when your child is out of school,″ said Judy Graham, director of corporate operations in Boston. ``A lot of people don’t have extended families to deal with it, and it’s difficult.″

She said that before the company pitched in for baby-sitting in emergencies, employees called in sick to stay home with their children.

``We wanted to be honest with people, and we wanted people to be honest and up-front with us,″ said Graham, whose own 13-year-old son accompanied her to the office Tuesday when his school closed. ``I think there’s a real uplifting of morale when companies do this.″

At the Boston-based John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., employees can use two personal days, then take vacation days when their children’s schools are closed by snow.

``The real dilemma with snow days is that they arrive out of the blue,″ said Kathy Hazzard, manager of work and family programs. ``Of course, as a working parent myself, the thought of using all my vacation and having none left this summer is looming pretty big.″

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