Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Delayed vote on new regulations creates uncertain future for Williamsburg preschool

The daycare model used by Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool in Williamsburg, with parents assisting teachers, may not be feasible if new regulations are approved by the Virginia State Board of Social Services. (WYDaily/Courtesy Julie Tucker, Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool)
The daycare model used by Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool in Williamsburg, with parents assisting teachers, may not be feasible if new regulations are approved by the Virginia State Board of Social Services. (WYDaily/Courtesy Julie Tucker, Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool)

For now, it’s business as usual at the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool.

Parents are still volunteering in the classroom, supplementing the teachers’ supervision and keeping lessons moving smoothly.

But change may be on the way.

The future of Williamsburg’s only cooperative preschool still hangs in the balance, months after the Virginia Department of Social Services first considered increasing training requirements for daycare volunteers and employees.

Based on a parent volunteer model, nonprofit cooperative preschools in Virginia could lose a special exemption that currently allows parents to undergo four hours of training, versus 20 hours for regular full-time daycare employees.

“It could be the end of our model as we know it,” said Molly Gareis, director of the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool.

There has been no vote by the Virginia State Board of Social Services, and no indication on whether the regulations will pass as-proposed. The board was first scheduled to vote on the changes in August.

DSS spokeswoman Cletisha Lovelace said the regulations are tentatively scheduled to go before the Board of Social Services for a vote, but there is no set date.

The agenda for the board’s upcoming Dec. 12 meeting has not yet been finalized.

For now, that means the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool — fondly called the “co-op” by some parents — is preparing for the next school year as if nothing will change.

“At this point, we’re planning to go forward for the next school year as we have in the past,” Gareis said.

How the co-op works

If regulations are changed, the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool, which is housed in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church at 1333 Jamestown Road, will likely need to evaluate and change its model.

Under the cooperative model, a special exemption in regulations allows parents to volunteer at cooperative preschools with only four hours of annual training. Parents volunteer their time based on how much time their child spends at the preschool — that usually averages out to once or twice a month.

The proposed regulations would require more than 20 hours of training per parent annually — as much training as full-time daycare staff receive — including first aid, CPR, daily health observation and medication administration training.

In August, Lovelace told WYDaily the proposed changes would “provide additional protections of the health, safety and welfare of children in care.”

Gareis said most parents cannot afford to take the time to attend hours or days of training when they only volunteer in their children’s classrooms once or twice a month.

Gareis said a member of the Board of Social Services recently had a “positive” visit at the Williamsburg preschool.

Lovelace said the Department of Social Services Division of Child Licensing has been in communication with several preschool provider groups regarding the proposed changes.

Lovelace added there are no further updates.

The daycare model used by Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool in Williamsburg, with parents assisting teachers, may not be feasible if new regulations are approved by the Virginia State Board of Social Services. (WYDaily/Courtesy Julie Tucker, Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool)
The daycare model used by Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool in Williamsburg, with parents assisting teachers, may not be feasible if new regulations are approved by the Virginia State Board of Social Services. (WYDaily/Courtesy Julie Tucker, Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool)

Trying to prepare

Gareis said it has been difficult to prepare for updates to training regulations because it’s unclear exactly how they’ll change.

The Board of Social Services may pass the regulations as-is, pass a modified version or not pass them at all.

With a limited operating budget, Gareis said the co-op also hasn’t been able to set aside money to pay for additional full-time staff in the future.

Stiffening regulations on parent training could also mean a tuition increase: fewer parent volunteers mean more paid staff and a higher budget.

Preschool registration for the upcoming year will continue as-usual this January and February, because there is no set implementation date if the regulations are passed.

“I wish there was more to tell,” Gareis said. “We really don’t know much at all at this point.”

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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