Laurel Street Preschool remains closed, but new board members elected Thursday night hope it’s only temporary.
The sudden closure Wednesday of the oldest preschool in Steamboat Springs left parents infuriated, saddened, crying and talking over each other during Thursday’s meeting at the school.
“Let’s all just finish asking our questions and raise hands like our children should do,” one parent said as tempers rose.
The frustration and emotions were perhaps understandable.
“People have an emotional attachment to their school,” Jennifer Holdeman said. “They’re dropping their children off there. It’s an extension of their family. That’s a hard thing to see come apart.”
Holdeman was one of the board members who voted for the school’s closure on Monday and stepped down Thursday. She has never had children at the school and joined the board because she wanted to give back to the community.
While the former board members voted to close the school starting Wednesday, they said they hope it’s not permanent. Parents weren’t told about the closure until Tuesday. afternoon.
Board members told Laurel Street Preschool families Thursday that they chose to shut down the school because they were concerned for the safety of the 30 or so children who were enrolled.
On May 17, the board was informed that a state daycare licensing inspector had visited the school. Numerous violations were cited in the resulting 12-page report. The inspection was done by Sharon Kelley on behalf of the Colorado Department of Human Service’s Division of Child Care.
Kelley attended the meeting Thursday. She told the parents she conducted the inspection about two weeks after the school’s new director had time to settle into her new role.
“I do feel like these things need to be addressed,” Kelley said, adding that her department will do whatever it can to help the school remain open.
The school had 30 days to fix the violations detailed in the report, but the board decided some of the fixes were not simple and would cost money the school doesn’t have. The board members also said the school couldn’t pay staff while the facility was temporarily closed.
Among the violations in the report were instances of more children in a room than it could legally hold and a lack of documentation for staff training and certifications. The report also stated children were not being directly supervised at all times.
“You’re talking about children being left alone in a room,” Holdeman said to the parents. “That’s not something a parent can come in and fix.”
That concern about safety was echoed by Mike Kimmes, the parent of a Laurel Street Preschool student and one of the board members who voted for the closure before stepping down from that role Thursday.
“I couldn’t look at any of you in the eye when you dropped your kids off at school and say, ‘Your kid is 100 percent safe,’” Kimmes said.
The board members acknowledged they were concerned about being held personally liable for any incidents or financial troubles the school could face if it did not close.
Aside from making sure the students were safe, the board members also said they wanted to ensure the school was in a position to compensate the staff members what they are currently owed.
As for whether parents will get refunds for the remainder of the May tuition they paid, the board members said that will depend on outstanding bills and the collection of tuition the school is still owed by some families.
Moving forward, parents were told an additional staff member to address issues surrounding the supervision of children would cost the school $60,000 to $70,000. That cost would have to be passed down to parents, which works out to about $2,000 more per student per year.
The former board members, who described the recent months as hard and exhausting, are hopeful the new board will be able to reopen the school.
The new board will have access to confidential information the previous board had access to in the course of its decision making.
“I’m hopeful the school stays open,” Kimmes said. “It’s such a long-time community tradition.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com