An anonymous report to State of California authorities resulted in the state Department of Social Services shutting down the preschool program at Town Hall effective Thursday, May 24. The reason cited was lack of a state license. The state’s Health and Safety Code authorizes the Department of Social Services to regulate public and private childcare settings. Under governing code, a public recreation program for children not yet enrolled in school but over four years of age does not need a preschool license if it operates for less than 16 hours a week or for a total of less than 12 weeks a year.
Kathy Lewis, who had previously operated a preschool at Town Hall, confirmed that a license was not required of her during her Town Hall tenure and that she had complied with all Riverside County regulations then in force, including completing mandatory orientation for anyone opening a pre-school and filling required forms .
The closure of the preschool program comes the week before a planned graduation ceremony for preschool students and before a full summer program. Affected parents attended a hastily called community meeting on Friday, May 25 at Town Hall. An Economic Development Agency (EDA) representative (EDA operates the local recreation program) attempted to deal with parents’ concerns over this unexpected event. Many parents complained that the timing could not have been worse given the planned graduation and upcoming summer program and the lack of any notice to parents. More than one parent asked the EDA representative why county management did not know about the licensing requirement and what the county planned to do to correct this problem as quickly as possible.
Many expressed incredulousness and outrage at why any Idyllwild resident would have chosen to take an action that would detrimentally affect so many children and parents. “What good does it do to hurt these children and their working parents?” asked Ashley Gaceta. “Who would do something like this? Gigi [Beagle] and Amy [Righetti] got me involved [in the Town Hall preschool program] and my child has improved in his manners and general growth under this program.” Said Chris Fisher, “This program is all about the kids. I think it’s sad that the community could be loosing jobs over an issue that should be rectified.”
Attendees said they would contact 3rd District Jeff Stone’s office to see if and what could be done to expedite a licensing process so that the summer program and all planned activities could proceed. When notified on Friday of the state action, Supervisor Stone said the incident would be on his agenda for his Tuesday staff meeting. CSA 36 Operations Manager Bill Brown said by phone that the county was working the problem and that the community would be kept informed of next steps.