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Play area at the Rosslyn Children's Center(Updated at 5:55 p.m.) Arlington County has taken a proposed update to its child care regulations off its website after County Board members called the inclusion of certain controversial provisions “troubling.”

As ARLnow.com first reported Monday, the most recent draft of the child care regulations would have required child care centers to encourage mothers to breastfeed and would have dictated what type of milk, juice and birthday treats could be fed to children, among other provisions.

That’s in addition to new staffing and employee education requirements that panicked the operators of small and part-time child care centers, who said such rules would put them out of business or at least drive up the cost of daycare and preschool programs.

“This situation, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it’s really the most troubled roll-out of a county initiative since the ill-conceived and ill-fated Public Land for Public Good,” said County Board member John Vihstadt. “I really think that this is close to an unmitigated disaster. If our goal is to increase the supply and the affordability of child care throughout Arlington County, this in my view seems to do exactly the opposite.”

DHS Director Anita Friedman on 2/23/16Anita Friedman, Director of Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services, said the creation of the new regulations is an “iterative” process that has been underway since 2014, with input from directors of child care centers and consultation from a Kentucky-based nonprofit association.

Despite what she described as a positive public outreach process, Friedman acknowledged that there has been “a lot” of negative feedback, particularly from owners of smaller child care centers and the parents who use them.

“There are some issues with the current version,” she told the Board. “In some places, I think, because some of the enthusiasm of the child care centers and our Arlington Way of striving for the best, we may have probably overreached in terms of the best practices that we want to incorporate in there, that don’t belong in the code.”

That didn’t satisfy new County Board member Katie Cristol, who included affordable child care as part of her policy platform. She called the inclusion of some of the provisions “silly season business.”

Katie Cristol“At a time when we have young families leaving this county because it costs as much if not more to have your child in daycare as it does to pay rent… I think we have broader concerns than making sure kids have the absolute best environment,” Cristol said.

“This is really troubling to see this level of best practice conflated with code and with regulation,” she continued. “I am not comfortable inserting unbidden county government in encouraging anybody to tell a mother how to feed her child, whether that’s best practice or regulation.”

“Distraction is not a strong enough word for the real issue at play here. We have been hearing loud and clear from members of our community that this undermines trust in government. It exacerbates a sentiment that Arlington is hostile to child care centers and small businesses.”

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Play area at the Rosslyn Children's Center

Daycare and preschool providers in Arlington are decrying proposed new child care regulations as overly onerous and intrusive.

A 34-page draft of new child care center regulations would set stringent requirements for employee education, require food handling certificates for handing out snacks and would require providers to encourage mothers to breast feed, among numerous other regulatory provisions.

Child care providers — particularly small, part-time operators — are speaking out against the the changes to Chapter 52 of County Code via the county’s online “open comment tool.”

“This document was supposed to clarify things, however, it created more issues,” said one comment.

Many comments focused on new education requirements for the teachers and assistant directors at child care centers. They would have to have a Bachelor’s Degree in education or a similar major and “at least 9 semester credits of advanced study in child development or early childhood education.” Current teachers would have three years to meet that requirement.

The education requirement could financially burden employees, who may have to go back to school to get the necessary credits, and could burden child care centers by raising the cost of hiring new employees,  providers said.

“Have you considered the impact this would have on preschools and just how difficult finding teachers with these very narrow qualifications will be?” said one comment. “As former preschool board member who was in charge of hiring for two years, I can tell you that finding highly qualified teachers who are willing to work for preschool pay is already very challenging. You add these new rules and and two thirds of our EXCEPTIONAL staff would not be qualified to teach.”

“I am sure these regulations are well-intentioned and meant to foster excellent Arlington preschools,” said another. “But we already have excellent Arlington preschools. The effect of some of these costly new requirements will be to drastically increase costs, making these excellent schools inaccessible financially for some area families.”

Providers also questioned a requirement that they have a certified food handler on staff if they serve or store food.

“If we need to obtain a license for teachers to distribute Goldfish crackers, this would be unduly burdensome,” said a daycare provider. “We are a part-time center and children are required to bring their lunches from home. The only food we give them are snacks and milk for lunches, if requested.”

Operators of part-time cooperative preschools and daycare centers, which are run largely by volunteers, said that such schools should be exempt from the provisions. Staffing requirements that require specific child-to-adult ratios but only count paid staff, while also prohibiting volunteers from being alone with children, would make it “virtually impossible for parent cooperative preschools to function,” said one commenter.

Some of the most incredulous commentary was reserved for provisions that daycare providers viewed as unnecessary for child safety and overly prescriptive. Among them:

  • “The licensee will ensure that mothers are encouraged to breast feed their infants.”
  • “The interior of the building must be finished in light or bright colors…”
  • “Celebrations (birthdays, special occasions) should include mostly healthy foods or non-food treats.”
  • “Children two years of age and older will be served only skim or 1% pasteurized milk.”
  • “Staff will promote dental hygiene among children at mealtimes.”
  • “Only full-strength (100%) pasteurized fruit juice or full-strength juice diluted with water from a cup will be served to children twelve months of age or older.”
  • “… All cribs, cots and mats must be spaced a minimum of 3 feet (36 inches) apart.”
  • “[Providers must have a plan for] acquiring, stockpiling, storing and cycling to keep updated emergency food/water and supplies needed to care for children and staff for up to 3 days if shelter-in-place is required…”
  • “The licensee will ensure that a trained staff member shall conduct and document a health check of each child every morning upon arrival.”
  • “In addition to the application document, the [child care center] must submit… a business plan.”
  • “A licensee will have specific arrangements with a health care provider who will provide consultation on both routine and emergency health care issues for children.”

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A Columbia Pike church preschool has shut down indefinitely after asbestos dust was found in the floors.

Trinity Episcopal Church‘s School of Early Learning sent out a letter to parents on Tuesday, confirming the presence of asbestos dust in the air at the school. The church’s rector, Rev. Kim Coleman, also serves as the school’s headmaster and said the more than 100 students will not be allowed to enter the building for an “indeterminate amount of time.”

“We are presently looking for a temporary site for the school and as soon as we have more information we will let you know,” the letter states. “Please know that we are sorry for these unexpected developments and hope you understand that the measures we are taking we consider to be in the best interest of our students and staff.”

When reached by ARLnow.com, Coleman declined to comment before she could speak to the church’s board. A tipster, who sent us Coleman’s letter, said volunteers were cleaning the preschool when they ripped up flooring, releasing asbestos dust into the air.

Chaos ensued when folks figured out what had happened,” the tipster wrote. “School was canceled indefinitely. Testing occurred, it came back positive, and now 100-plus kids don’t have a daycare to go to. Who knows if the church has the money to remediate asbestos.”

Coleman’s letter said the church has “consulted a professional asbestos remediation company” and was hoping for an estimate yesterday. The Trinity Church building was built in 1957, and the congregation is 111 years old. Trinity traces its origins back to a chapel for local slaves built by George Washington Parke Custis in the early 1800s, according to the church’s website.

Update at 4:05 p.m. Friday — Rev. Coleman tells ARLnow.com: “We have been dealing with this situation with an abundance of caution and with the advice of environmental professionals since we became aware of it. We will develop a plan of action for going forward as soon as possible and we are keeping the parents apprised of the situation. Our building was built in the early 1950’s and our program currently has 75 students enrolled.

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Morning Notes

Apartment building in Pentagon City at sunset

Same-Sex Marriage Stats in Arlington — One in nine marriage license applications in Arlington — 11 percent of the total — have been from same-sex couples since October, according to Circuit Court Clerk Paul Ferguson. The first legal same-sex marriage in Arlington took place on Oct. 6, 2014. [InsideNova]

Disease False Alarm at Lubber Run — County officials were informed last week that two children in a preschool program at Lubber Run Community Center had been diagnosed with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. In response, parents of children in the preschool and a daycare program at the center were notified, toys and surfaces in facility were disinfected, and toys that could not be disinfected were thrown away. Within a day, however, county officials say they were told that the diagnosis was wrong and that the children did not, in fact, have the disease.

Sweet Leaf Now Open in Ballston — The Sweet Leaf Cafe at 650 N. Quincy Street in Ballston opened last week. The cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and on Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., according to owner Arita Matini.

Storytime with Caps Player at Library — Washington Capitals forward Eric Fehr stopped by the Westover Branch Library Monday night for a reading of his new children’s book, The Bulliest Dozer. Fehr signed books, hockey sticks and at least one library card. [Arlington Public Library]

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The site of the future STEM Preschool in Fairlington (photo via Google Maps)A new, 55-seat preschool with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math education appears on its way a stone’s throw from Shirlington.

STEM Preschool was approved by the Arlington County Board last night for a use permit at 3120 S. Abingdon Street, in the 74-year-old building once occupied by Frosty’s Heating and Cooling, next to Fire Station 7.

“We have a need in our community for daycare, for childcare,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said before the Board unanimously approved the application. “As we get more families, day care is a really important service to provide. I think this is going to be a great addition to the Fairlington community.”

The preschool is owned by Portia Moore, who owns P&E Babysitting, a service that caters largely to North Arlington families and has a five-star rating on Yelp. Moore started the babysitting business while she was a teacher for Arlington Public Schools. She taught for three yeas at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, one at Swanson Middle School and one at Patrick Henry Elementary School, in the preschool program.

Moore said she wanted to start a preschool focused on STEM education ever since she was getting her master’s degree from Marymount University and visited the elementary school programs at Ft. Belvoir.

“They have an amazing program there, with interactive labs with kindergarteners,” Moore told ARLnow.com this morning. “It was hands on, not just reading off the board. The children would learn through touching things and labs. It was interesting to me, and I thought younger kids could learn just like that.”

Moore said that there will be about 11 staff members trained in early STEM education, including a director with a master’s degree in early childhood education. She won’t be closing the babysitting business — “I think my clients would kill me,” she said — and she had hoped to be closer to her clientele, but said she fell in love with the space.

“There’s an outdoor play area in the back, and a lot of places in Arlington don’t have any land for that,” she said. As a requirement of her use permit, county staff mandated that the playground Moore plans to build is fenced in for the children’s safety.

Inside the school, there will be hands on activities to get the children to engage in STEM education, like plants, a butterfly garden to observe an insect’s life cycle and a “water table” to observe the phases of water. “Everything will be integrated,” Moore said, “the kids won’t just be doing science during science time, there will be math components, too.”

Now that the permit is approved, Moore said only building permits are left before construction can begin. She estimates the school will open on Jan. 20, the day after Martin Luther King Day. The center plans to operate 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. There are 15 parking spaces in the lot, but staff approved the site, pointing out nearby street parking is readily available for staff to use.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Dense fog in Shirlington (photo courtesy @SBDSLLC)

Church to Drop K-8 School — St. Charles Borromeo Church, near Clarendon, has announced that it will be closing its private K-8 school after this school year due to low enrollment. Only 117 students are currently enrolled at the school, about half of its capacity. “No Catholic school can survive with such low numbers,” said the church’s pastor, in a letter to parents. The church will retain its popular preschool program. [Arlington Catholic Herald]

Surge in Students With Food Allergies — Statistics from Arlington Public Schools shows that the number of students with reported food allergies has nearly doubled since the 2008-09 school year. About 1,150 students, or 5 percent of the student body, have reported food allergies to the school system. [Sun Gazette]

The Fire That Almost Destroyed Rosslyn — In 1925, a gasoline-fueled fire nearly destroyed all of Rosslyn. Firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze narrowly escaped harm when they leaped from a gasoline tank just before it exploded. [Ghosts of DC]

State Appointment for Retired Arlington Cop — Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), who was sworn in over the weekend, has appointed Tonya Vincent as Deputy Secretary of Public Safety. Vincent served 22 years with the Arlington County Police Department, where she retired as a captain.

Photo courtesy @SBDSLLC

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Morning Notes

Arlington Preschool Makes Headlines — Claremont Elementary’s Montessori preschool program is receiving lots of attention for its decision to suspend a three-year-old who has “difficulty making it to the toilet on time.” The Wall Street Journal opines: “Potty training poses a tough challenge for dual working-parents.” [Washington Post]

Virginia Primary Will Be Held in August — Virginia’s primary date has been pushed back to Aug. 23 to allow more time for the state to complete its contentious redistricting process. Normally, primaries are held on the second Tuesday in June. [Washington Post]

Cuccinelli Suing Bank on Behalf of Arlington Retirement Fund — Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is suing the Bank of New York Mellon Corp., accusing the financial giant of ripping off several state retirement systems, including the Arlington County Employees’ Retirement System Fund. The complaint alleges that BNY Mellon overcharged for foreign exchange transactions. [Wall Street Journal]

Draft Beer at the Clarendon Whole Foods — You can now get 32- or 64-ounce growlers filled up with draft beer at the Clarendon Whole Foods. Recently, the selection included Avery Brown Ale, Lagunitas IPA and Eggenberg Pils. Sorry, Whole Foods diners, “sales are for takeout only.” [Patch]

Transportation Group Calls Out Arlington — The pro-HOT lanes Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance is taking a dig at the county in response to our article about the anti-Arlington budget amendments proposed by Fairfax Republican Del. Tim Hugo. Says the NVTA: “It is unfortunate that the Arlington Board’s actions could cause Arlington citizens and businesses to lose state revenue and potentially pay even higher taxes. However… Bad Decisions Can Have Bad Consequences.” [NVTA]

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