Parents concerned about changes to Del Mar district’s preschool

The district has proposed changes to the Early Childhood Development Center due to financial challenges.

In light of decreased enrollment and financial challenges due to the pandemic, the Del Mar Union School District is restructuring its Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) to ensure it can continue to provide care to current families in its infant, toddler and preschool programs.

Starting in January 2021 after winter break, all operations at the Torrey Hills ECDC location will be suspended and will be transferred to Ashley Falls. Classes will be reconfigured and combined—the Ashley Falls toddlers will be combined with the infants and half-day and full-day preschool classrooms will now combine children ages 2-5.

Prior to the pandemic, the ECDC averaged 150 students but that number has gone down to 80 students. The program currently has a budget deficit of $349,349.

According to DMUSD Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Shelley Petersen, the plan was developed with consideration for maintaining the quality of the program, meeting the needs of children who are currently enrolled and ensuring that the program can stay open.

“At this time, the program is not financially solvent and requires restructuring. If changes are not made, the Early Childhood Development Center will be forced to close mid-year,” Petersen said. “All efforts have been made to minimize staff layoffs, including reassignments and reduction in hours.”

Petersen said the district tried to provide significant notice to families, sending out a letter to families on Oct. 8 about changes that will not take effect until Jan. 4, 2021.

ECDC parents like Cheree Bray said it was disturbing to hear about a new business model that will implement “radical” changes during some of the hardest times people are going through, in the middle of the school year.

A group of ECDC parents came together to send a letter to the district and school board asking them to reconsider the restructuring plan. The parents believe that the changes will affect the quality of instruction, the children’s natural development and the safety of students.

The changes disrupt what parents liked most about the ECDC, that it is more than just a daycare and offered curriculums that concentrated on child developmental milestones for every age group such as potty training for 2 and 3-year-olds, preschool for 3 to 4-year-olds, and kindergarten prep for kids who are 4 to 5 years old.

They do not agree with combining and mixing age groups, with young toddlers now being in the same classroom as a 5-year-old. Bray said that classroom sizes were supposed to be no more than 16, however, now they have been told there will be one classroom with 20 children and one with 24.

“Cutting staff hours and packing classrooms will bring more stress and anxiety to the current staff, who have been the heart of this program. The staff has been sacrificing their own well-being to provide the most steady and safe environment during this pandemic,” the letter stated. “These children and families already endured great trauma for the past eight months of the pandemic. It would be tragic and traumatic to withdraw these children from the safe and familiar learning environment to a completely different environment in the middle of the school year.”

Bray said it was also disappointing that parents were not given a chance to weigh in on such a huge change to the program. At the next board meeting on Oct. 28 (after press time for this newspaper), parents planned to speak to the board during public comment about their concerns and propose potential alternative solutions.

Petersen said that, hopefully, the ECDC changes will not be permanent.

“We are confident that once the pandemic subsides, our Early Childhood Development Center will be vibrant and available to both staff and community,” Petersen said.