With a new “letter of understanding,” the extended-day recreation-based program at Samuel Staples Elementary School (SSES) will continue to operate without a state license.
The program, which is run by the Parks and Recreation Department (P&R), has been offering before- and after-school activities for the elementary school’s students for 10 years.
At the March 13, 2012, Board of Education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Daniel Underberger suggested the program be re-evaluated “based on feedback” during public comment about possible safety and policy problems. The Board of Education conducted a review to determine if the program should have a state license, which is not required but is available.
Municipal agencies such as P&R are exempt from mandatory state licensing for programs that could be defined as “child care,” but they are allowed to get licensed.
The P&R extended-day program is not run by or affiliated with the school or the BOE, but the school board decides who is allowed to use the elementary school building for the program.
At the March 13 board meeting, Dr. Underberger appointed Jeff Parker and Vida Peskay “as a subcommittee to investigate the issues and program and report back to the Board of Education with recommendations at the next meeting.”
The program at SSES before P&R took over in 2003 was a state-licensed school-age child care program that began in the 1990s.
About seven years ago, Kim Fox-Santora, SSES principal, was part of a group that recommended to the BOE that the before- and after-school program at SSES should be state-licensed.
Dr. Peskay said she was unaware of the previous licensed program and of Ms. Fox-Santora’s recommendation but said that the decision came down to practicality.
In an interview this past fall, Ms. Fox-Santora confirmed that she was part of the group that had recommended state licensing, but she could not be reached for comment for this story.
Dr. Peskay said there is not enough square footage currently allocated to the program to meet licensing requirements.
She said the subcommittee did not speak to Ms. Fox-Santora about whether there was more space they could use at the 120,000-square-foot elementary school. But, to Dr. Peskay, it does not matter since, to her, licensing is not needed.
“I don’t think we’re losing anything [not being licensed],” Dr. Peskay said.
Mr. Parker agreed.
“It’s not practical and not necessary,” he said.
One of the concerns raised in public comment at the March 13 meeting was that of background checks for the staff of the program.
A licensed child care program must do state and FBI (federal) fingerprinting for potential employees, said Bill Gerrish, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), the agency that oversees child care licensing.
The minimum age for fingerprinting is 16, Mr. Gerrish said.
According to the DPH’s website, it also requires a check of the state child abuse registry, and the program operator must submit to the DPH “any information obtained concerning substantiated child abuse or neglect records or criminal convictions, upon request of the department.”
P&R uses Clearstar, a website that conducts statewide criminal checks, for its potential employees’ background checks, according to Danielle Alves, programmer for P&R. She said they also perform statewide fingerprinting through the town’s Police Department.
There are no federal fingerprinting checks done for potential extended-day employees, according to Ms. Alves.
During their investigation, Mr. Parker and Dr. Peskay met with members of P&R, including an employee of the extended-day program, and observed the program one afternoon.
Mr. Parker also observed the before- and after-school program in Redding, which is run by the Redding Park and Recreation Department, and discussed with it why it is not licensed.
The two members of the subcommittee met with eight or nine families in Easton who use the extended-day program to get feedback.
Dr. Peskay said that she read the rules for state licensing of a child care program, but the subcommittee did not observe a licensed program as part of its research. Mr. Parker read part of the rules for licensing.
Letter of understanding
A letter of understanding, drafted by Mr. Parker, Dr. Peskay, Ms. Alves, and John Broadbin, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, was signed by the four of them earlier this month and approved at the Jan. 15 school board meeting.
In the letter, the group says it has “concluded that the Extended Day Program would be better served by incorporating many of the best practices identified by the daycare licensure regulations” rather than choosing licensing.
The DPH defines regulations for state licensing as “minimum standards below which it is illegal to operate,” according to its website.
The letter of understanding addresses staff vaccinations and child medical notifications.
It agrees to an “outside oversight committee” which would be a P&R subcommittee that meets twice a year. It would consist of “one Park and Recreation commissioner, two board representatives, two parents from differing families, and the Extended Day Program supervisor,” according to the letter.
State-licensed programs are overseen by the state, and concerns may be brought to the state’s attention if parents are unsatisfied with the response in Easton.
The letter of understanding also says that a staff developmental program will be implemented consisting of employee training in several subject areas.
State licensure requires year-round continuing education for staff.
The letter also talks about the type of snacks that will be available for the children and the use of school materials for the program, such as a landline and classroom space.
The letter says that staff under 18 years old will “be paired with older staff members at all times when direct contact with children is required.”
The period of the letter of understanding is “ever green” according to the letter, but BOE has agreed to an extension of three years for use of the school by P&R.
Mr. Parker said he felt good about the outcome of their process.
”I think everyone will be pleased with the direction, oversight and level of detail the ‘letter of understanding’ provides,” Mr. Parker said. “Our children are in a good place.”
Dr. Peskay said she was happy with what she saw of the extended-day program.
“We were both very pleasantly surprised by what a good program it is,” she said.
Adam Dunsby, current chairman of the Easton Board of Education, is also happy with the program.
“I think the Parks and Recreation Department runs a fine program,” he said. “And I think the items they’ve agreed to should make it even better for Easton’s children.”
At the BOE’s March 2012 meeting, Gary Simone, director of P&R, reported that 25 children were enrolled in the morning session and 60 were enrolled in the afternoon session.
The letter of understanding is available to the public at the central office for Easton, Redding and Region 9 at 654 Morehouse Road.