Parents Start Petition for Council Vote on Playgroup Bill

Education Committee Seeks Restrictions on Parent-Led Play

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Mari Scarlett Hirte testifies as her daughter watches at a public hearing before the Education Committee on the Parent-led Play Cooperative Amendment Act of 2018 at a public hearing Nov. 1. Courtesy: L. Kidder

On Thursday, Nov. 1, 24 parents testified at a public hearing before the Education Committee on the Parent-led Play Cooperative Amendment Act of 2018. In their testimony, the parents spoke passionately about the importance of playgroups. All of the parents and many in attendance wore “Save Parent Playgroups” t-shirts. 

Councilmembers Allen and Mendelson introduced the Parent-led Play Cooperative Amendment Act of 2018 which would exempt playgroups from regulations designed for childcare facilities.

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. Council passed emergency legislation Oct. 2, which temporarily exempts parent playgroups from licensing requirements while the Council and Mayor consider a permanent policy solution.

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.

Attempts to Regulate Play

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.

The Petworth playgroup was in the ward represented by Councilmember Brandon Todd (Ward 4-D) who attended the hearing and repeatedly voiced his support for the bill on the record. After the hearing, Todd tweeted a picture of himself in a “Save Parent Playgroups” t-shirt, and later wrote a piece for the Petworth News blog in which he wrote that he is committed to advocating for the legislation and asking people to call CM Grosso’s office. 

In her testimony, CHCPS Parent Margaret McCulloch noted that networks of parents helping one another with child-rearing have a long history. “The shared burden and shared joys of watching each other’s children builds stronger parents and stronger communities,” she said.

Attendees and testifying parents at the Nov. 1 hearing wore red teachers reading ‘Save Parent Playgroups’. Image: L. Kidder

“You should not need a license to entrust your child to other neighborhood parents while they all play together.”

CHCPS Parent Matt King agreed, saying that the playgroup was the kind of engagement between the community and its children that should be encouraged rather than restricted.

Elizabeth Corinth, with another Capitol Hill parent-led cooperative, said that regulation would be the death knell for such groups.,” she testified. ”To insist on regulating parent led playgroups is effectively the same as outlawing them entirely.”

Councilmember Allen agreed. After parents testified at the hearing, Allen noted that play groups have an excellent track record in terms of child welfare, health and safety. “If we try to be overly formal, overly regulatory, we will put these entities at risk,” he said. “I think there is great value in what they are, what they represent and how they work for these children and for these families. And I don’t want to lose that.” 

CHCPS Parent Jessica Golibart poses with her son, a CHCPS kid. Both are wearing ‘Save Parent Playgroups’ t-shirts prior to the Nov. 1 hearing. Photo: L. Kidder

‘Slippery Slope’

At the hearing, Councilmember Grosso, who is Chair of the Education Committee, said that he intends to partner with OSSE on the bill. Grosso referred to the legislation as a “slippery slope.’

“The right solution might mean that [playgroup parents] have to do something to show that [they] are complying with some standards,” said Grosso. “Parents often are the best caretakers for their children, but sometimes parents are not the best caretakers for their children and unfortunately the government has to deal with that when it happens.” 

Representatives for OSSE testified that they “do not support the bill as introduced without additional language that requires compliance with necessary health and safety protections,” seemingly stating that in order for playgroups to be exempt from regulation, playgroups to have to comply with OSSE regulation.  

Concetta Aires said that there was nothing to regulate. “For OSSE to claim that parent led playgroups are not safe is not only ridiculous,” she said, “it is insulting.”

On Saturday, parents from CHCPS circulated a petition requesting that Grosso to move the bill out of Committee and that the bill be voted on by Council.  At press time, the petition had already received more than 500 signatures.  

You can watch the entire hearing online; the playgroup portion starts at about 4:13.

Sign the petition online at https://chn.ge/2yMqL3e