WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Parents are breathing a sigh of relief after learning that the Patty Jischke Early Care and Education Center will remain open. This after parents received notice from the university that the center would close and no alternative would open. However, Purdue quickly pivoted after parents fought back.
"This feels like par for the course for parenting during a pandemic," said Professor Alice Pawley with a tired laugh. She is a parent of two children who attend the Purdue University Early Care and Education Center.
Parents everywhere have had to deal with the whiplash of juggling work, kids and life during the pandemic, and the parents of the Patty Jischke Early Care and Education Center were blindsided by a letter on January 27th.
"We received a note from KinderCare saying that they were told to be out of the building by June the 1st, that the center was going to be demolished and turned into a parking lot, and that we were not going to have replacement care of any kind," said Purdue Researcher, Amanda Mayes.
She said PJC is a home away from home for her daughter Laney, who is four-years-old.
"She been there since she was eight weeks old," she said. "She has literally grown up with the teachers and the group of kids there, so it's very personal wanting to keep that center open."
Pawley and Mayes explained how PJC has been in limbo for almost two years. Parents received notification in 2019 that the center would be torn down, but that a newer and bigger center would open in six months' time in the new Research Park. Pawley said PJC currently can accommodate 88 kids and that they were told this new center would hold 150. This is big and important news for a lot of Purdue families.
"There's already a child care shortage in this area and specifically on campus," said Mayes. "I have friends who are 90 deep on a wait list to get into a center that was going to be demolished, so it just didn't make good sense."
"There are people on the wait list who saw that announcement of the expanded care thinking wow, maybe we'll have a chance," said Pawley.
However, when the pandemic hit, the parents were told that all plans to demolish or construct any child care centers would be put on hold. This was something Pawley and Mayes said was reasonable given the circumstances of COVID. The parents were still in that unknowing period until they received the most recent news that the PJC would be demolished. The letter gave no details on the original 2019 plan to build the new center.
Purdue child care parents and community members rallied together to fight for PJC. Hundreds signed on to an open letter sent to Purdue's leaders. For many, the thought of losing their child care was the last straw.
"The just overwhelming and fast response of everyone to say 'this is ridiculous and you should stop' was a result of a lot of pent up frustration," said Pawley. She added that having her two kids e-learning from home while dealing with teaching and keeping her students safe has been stressful.
And Purdue listened. A week later, on February 3rd, the university said they would not tear down the center for now. Click here to read Purdue's full statement.
Both parents say they are very grateful that Purdue took their concerns and acted so quickly. However, the new release still did not give any information about plans for a new center, meaning things are still in a sense of limbo.
Pawley and Mayes said this whole situation still raised bigger issues surrounding child care.
"Parenting still disproportionately falls on women, it falls on people of color in complex and different ways and so ignoring thinking about care givers is an issue of equity," said Pawley. She said she has been advocating for Purdue to prioritize care giving in general more in the past months, as many are dealing with struggles of day-to-day life and health safety.
"In Tippecanoe County right now, the Indiana Early Learning Committee estimates that only 36% of children have access to high quality care," said Mayes.
Pawley said Purdue can also do better in creating betting working conditions for the teachers. She acknowledged her own privilege in that she is a tenured faculty member at Purdue. The majority of Purdue families don't have such stability in their job.
"To pay to have my kids go to the Purdue child care centers, I pay more than Purdue charges in-state student tuition," she said. "The teachers who care for our children have very minimal health insurance, they don't have paid parental leave, they do not have the benefits that the people who bring their children to the center get. This is an essential service."
Ultimately they want to see Purdue become a leader in child care among its peers.
"Right now Purdue is still middle of the road in terms of capacity among our Big Ten sister institutions at 324 students," said Mayes "That's obviously pretty small compared to the number of faculty and staff. We would like to see Purdue fulfill the promise to add child care to campus."
News 18 reached out to the Director of PJC for comment on this story but did not hear back. Photos provided to News 18 by a Patty Jischke Center parent who received them in the mail. Names and contact information have been covered for privacy.