Heated Dispute Growing Over Policy Change
Forget about a lazy hazy summer for many folks in the City of Falls Church. Parents with school-aged children are either firing off angry e-mails from their sandcastles on the Outer Banks, cutting short vacations to stir up ferment in town, or virtually camping out at City Hall, waiting to pipe up at next Tuesday’s School Board meeting.
At issue is something that both sides are passionate about. It is whether or not the School Board will revise its day care policy to permit all children in town to participate, not just those with working, infirm or otherwise occupied parents.
Last week, a 5-2 majority on the School Board gave a preliminary approval to the revision and this coming Tuesday, they will re-convene for a final vote.
“I think the issue is primarily philosophical,” School Board chair Craig Cheney told the News-Press in a telephone interview yesterday, “But there is passion on both sides.” Cheney is one of two on the School Board who voted against changing the policy last week.
But others insist the policy needs to be revised to address today’s realities. The guidelines of the Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Extended Day Care program were established in 1975, and the ways in which adults work nowadays is different, they contend.
Some on the School Board are also concerned that the policy has to be in compliance with State law, which is ambiguous on the subject. When the City Schools added a second day care program for middle school students 10 years ago, known as the After School Activities Program (ASAP), participation was encouraged by offering it to all middle school students enrolled in public or private schools or living in the City.
The School Board has been involved in an effort to unify the policies of the Extended Day Care and ASAP programs, leading to the emergence of contradictory options: either open both programs to everyone without stipulating any preferences, or give preference in the programs to children with working parents.
In its first vote, while Cheney and Joan Wodiska voted against changing the present policy, Kathy Chandler, Ron Peppe, Rosaura Aguerrebere, Susan Kearney and Kieran Sharpe voted to change it.
The vote overruled a unanimous recommendation by the Board’s Extended Day Care Advisory Board to keep the current policy. That board, under chair Sally Gannon, includes Susan Allen-Burnett, Sheila Owens, Daria Teutonico, Carol Rice, Tonya Fields and Julie Griffin.
The Advisory Board argued that space limitations would be a major problem if the programs are opened up to more children.
A Feb. 12 memorandum to the School Board and Falls Church City Council from the advisory board cautioned against “unintended consequences,” citing “the lack of a needs assessment, budgetary impact study or rational to support the policy change.”
It added that there is “the potential for excluding families who meet current eligibility requirements due to full enrollment,” “the inability to safely and effectively plan and staff,” and “the potential negative financial impact.”
One parent, in a letter to Cheney, noted that the proposed opening of eligibility for the program “to include all children who reside in, or attend school in, Falls Church City” is “dependent upon program capacity and staffing limitations,” while containing “no provision for prioritizing enrollment for children who need this care.”
But in another letter to the School Board, copied to the News-Press by its author, a parent argues, “I believe the City of Falls Church is small enough that we can and should be inclusive of all children that attend our schools, and the Day Care Program is an inherent part of the public school service which should be available to all students as needed.”
The letter argues that the program’s original 1975 policy “is now out of date with today’s family needs,” among other things the fact that it “doesn’t allow for parents who work part-time or for those who need only occasional day care.”
“This is a very modest suggestion of breaking down arbitrary and outdated barriers that discriminate against some of our citizens,” she wrote.
But another parent wrote to the News-Press, saying “The day care program was set up in response to a ‘need,’ not just a ‘want,’ and now it’s being changed for a ‘want.’”