Thursday, June 20, 2024

Cooperative preschools hope proposed bill will exempt co-ops from new state training regulations

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, is challenged by new regulations approved by the State Board of Social Services. (WYDaily/Courtesy Julie Tucker, Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool)

For more than half a year, the way of life at the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool has been hanging in the balance.

Its director, Molly Gareis, has talked to numerous elected officials, attended meetings and voiced concerns about proposed state training regulations she says could threaten the parent volunteer-teacher model the Williamsburg preschool uses.

Initially proposed in early 2018, the Virginia Department of Social Services proposed changing training requirements for the state’s licensed child day centers that would remove a special exemption for cooperative preschools and increase required training hours from four to at least 20 hours.

A less cumbersome version of those training requirements were passed last month, but Gareis — and local lawmakers — are still pushing to keep things the same.

“It’s definitely a compromise position,” Gareis said.

Cooperative preschools are built around a model that emphasizes parent time in the classroom. Child care tuition rates are typically below average, and parents supplement that by volunteering in the classroom for a certain number of days each month.

In December, the Virginia Department of Social Services Board passed the new regulations on training requirements intended to make preschools safer, DSS has said.

RELATED STORY: Delayed vote on new regulations creates uncertain future for Williamsburg preschool

As passed, the new regulations could increase the burden on parent-volunteers and challenge the operating model of cooperative preschools in the state, Gareis said.

The regulations at least double the number of hours of annual training required for cooperative preschool parent volunteers, from four hours to eight.

For parents who volunteer more than eight hours each month — volunteer hours at cooperative preschools are based on the number of children enrolled — those training hours could drastically increase from eight to 32 hours, according to the Virginia Cooperative Preschool Council.

Some aspects of the regulations are still not set in stone, including what required “orientation training” means for first-time parent volunteers. Parent volunteers will also need CPR and first aid training, another addition to past training requirements.

“It’s really hard to know what it means because a lot of the details are not in writing,” Gareis said, adding she hadn’t heard of a timeframe for when those details may be clearer.

Del. Brenda Pogge, R-96th District, filed a bill Jan. 8 asking to create an exemption in the new regulations for parents or guardians who volunteer at cooperative preschools.

Gareis said the bill will essentially keep regulations for cooperative preschools the same as they have been, allowing parent volunteers to still be required to complete up to four hours of training per year.

While regulations still hang in the balance, the Williamsburg Parent Cooperative Preschool, 1333 Jamestown Road, plans to operate as usual for the upcoming school year.

“We’re going to operate as we always have done until we have to do something differently,” Gareis said.

Sarah Fearing
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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