NEW YORK — Riel Peerbooms expected the cost of city permits for the after-school program he operates to increase because of the pandemic. But he did not expect them to cost three times more than the last school year.
"Three times effectively means, for one school, we almost are looking at a $40,000 permit fee. Whereas in a typical year, it would have been $12,000, 13,000 perhaps. And the end result simply is that the cost of the program is prohibitive,” Peerbooms said.
Peerbooms is the executive director of Trail Blazers, a non-profit organization offering camps and after-school programs in Brooklyn public schools, available to families on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay. The hike in permit fees represents a second financial blow: the program had to reduce enrollment to allow for social distancing.
"Permits three times as high, capacity three times as low, the end result is the program simply cannot run,” he said.
But Peerbooms said blended learning because of the pandemic — with students spending at least part of their week learning at home, online — makes his after-school program more necessary than ever.
Maggie Siddens, who works for Trail Blazers, agrees. She said watching students learn via Zoom helped her realize how much they need to socialize and enjoy unstructured time together.
"More than anything I think campers are missing out on just being kids,” she said.
The city’s Education Department said the increased fees are due to new cleaning protocols, which require school employees to work overtime.
“Disinfecting is critical to maintaining incredibly low positivity rates in our buildings, and for the safety of students, it cannot occur while they are in the building,” spokesman Nathaniel Styer said.
But Peerbooms thinks the fees will mean programs parents and children need won't be able to operate.
"I think everybody is sympathetic to the notion of how difficult times are at the moment, and certainly how difficult the budgets are going to be for the foreseeable future. But the reality is, this is not a feasible solution,” he said.