Hill Play Groups in Danger of Being Shut Down

OSSE Tells Co-ops to Comply with Day Care Law or Close

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Children play at a 2014 CHCPS session under the supervision of parent Liz Martin. Parents agree to regular meetings and rotate unpaid supervision duty. "Regulating play groups would crush them," said representative Lis Kidder.

Last month, the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) informed Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School (CHCPS), a parent-run playgroup for 2-year-olds, that they would be shut down if they fail to comply with legal requirements applicable to daycares.  

These requirements include hiring a director with a degree in early childhood education, obtaining a license and otherwise complying with the Child Development Facilities Regulation Act of 1998.

“CHCPS playgroups have been meeting for 45 years without government oversight,” said Lis Kidder, who is with CHCPS. “CHCPS is not a ‘child development facility’ (a daycare), in any sense of the word. It has no staff. Everyone who participates is a parent,” she said.

“Regulating playgroups would crush them.”

Hearing Nov. 1

Councilmembers Allen and Mendelson have introduced the Parent-led Play Cooperative Amendment Act of 2018 which would exempt playgroups from the regulations designed for childcare facilities. A hearing on the legislation before the Committee on Education is set to take place on Thursday, Nov. 1 in Room 412 of the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). 

Cooperative playgroups are a platform for parents and guardians of young children to arrange regular times for young children through play. Parents rotate responsibility for supervision, so that not all parents need to be present at every meeting. Groups are usually run on an unpaid, volunteer basis, although fees are sometimes collected to pay for insurance, equipment or snacks. While many are completely informal, some may incorporate for reasons germane to the group’s goals, for instance to sign a lease on space for play.

Supporters say playgroups allow parents to leave their children for a few hours with a group of trusted friends and their children. They say playgroups have a good safety record because of the very structure the cooperative playgroup, where every parent participating has a participating child. Child safety is in the collective interest of all of the parents. 

This is not OSSE’s first attempt to regulate such a group.  Last year, OSSE issued a similar notice to the Petworth Play Group (PPG). The file was closed when PPG relocated to a federal building, moving it outside the jurisdiction of OSSE.

Representatives of CHCPS said they have met with OSSE and explained to them that CHCPS is not a school but simply a group of children playing. They said that OSSE indicated that superintendent would issue a cease and desist order, shutting down the playgroup if parents did not agree to comply with the Child Development Facilities Regulation Act. 

Emergency Legislation

Acting to forestall the imminent threat that OSSE would shut down playgroups on which parents rely, council passed emergency legislation Oct. 2. Introduced by Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) and Chair Phil Mendelson (D), the bill temporarily exempts parent playgroups from licensing requirements while the Council and Mayor consider a permanent policy solution.

While he supported the emergency legislation at that session, Education Committee Chair David Grosso (At Large-I) indicated that he may support the position of OSSE in the future.  Grosso said that he considered it important that children are healthy, safe and in a position to succeed. However, he said while parent playgroups and cooperatives may have begun with informal roots, their increasing organization over the years appeared to him to indicate that play groups require regulation to ensure child safety and welfare.

“I want to make clear on the record that I look forward to finding a more permanent solution that clearly lists the rights and responsibilities of those that participate in these organized formal playgroups through permanent legislation or refined regulations at OSSE,” he said, adding that he expected future legislation to be heard by the Committee on Education, which he chairs.

“I forward to actually holding a hearing this fall and figuring out what the best opportunity is to make sure that this organization will continue, while at the same time ensure that every child has a safe place to go.”

Can Parents Keep Kids Safe?

Play group parents say they have heard OSSE intends to testify at the hearing that regulation of parent playgroups is required to keep children “safe,” implying that parents cannot keep children safe in a playgroup without government oversight.  

“As parents, we are just as interested as OSSE in keeping our own children safe —if not more so,” said CHCPS in a statement.  “We believe that, as the parents of these children, we are qualified to ensure their safety during a playgroup, as parents have done year after year since 1973.”

On a community Facebook page, neighbors commenting on the situation called it ‘absurd’ and said that OSSE “should stay in their lane.”

CHCPS said that they do not believe requiring playgroups to comply with the same regulation and reporting requirements as daycare centers will increase the safety of the children.  Rather, they say, it will lead to the playgroups shutting down. 

Those who wish to testify may sign-up online or call the Committee on Education at (202) 724-8061 by 5:00 p.m. Tuesday. Oct. 30. Persons wishing to testify are encouraged to submit 15 copies of written testimony. Written testimony may also be submitted by those unable to attend to the Education Committee