Concerned parents grapple with preschool closure at a Town Hall meeting Friday. Photo by Marshall Smith

An anonymous report to State of California authorities resulted in the state’s Department of Social Services shutting down the preschool program at Town Hall effective Thursday, May 24. On Wednesday, May 30, County Service Area Operations Manager Bill Brown said he anticipates the preschool would reopen on Monday, June 4.

Parents should contact Town Hall at (951) 659-2638 to register children for the new sessions scheduled to commence on June 4.

The stated reason for the closure 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 such as Town Hall’s for children not yet enrolled in school but over four years of age, does not need a preschool license if it operates for fewer than 16 hours a week or for a total of less than 12 weeks a year. Brown said hours of operation would be adjusted to comply with state requirements and that a graduation ceremony for existing students would take place at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 31.

The closure of the preschool program came the week before a scheduled 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. The County Economic Development Agency (EDA), which operates the local recreation program, sent representative Terri Bowen 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 Bowen 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 disbelief and outrage 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? GeGe [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 losing jobs over an issue that should be rectified.”

Kathy Lewis, who had previously operated a preschool at Town Hall, confirmed that a license was not required of her during her operation of the Town Hall preschool program. She also said she had complied with state regulations when she set up the program, including completing a required orientation session and required forms.