After new provincial child-care regulations forced Eitz Chaim Schools to postpone the start of the school year for its nursery and preschool programs, the school reopened just before the Sukkot holiday and is operating under a provisional license.
At the start of the school year, many parents were left scrambling to find child care for their children after many Jewish daycares, preschool and nursery programs that weren’t in compliance with the new rules were forced to shut down, either temporarily or permanently.
The Child Care and Early Years Act replaced the Day Nurseries Act in August and applies to unlicensed child care, home child-care providers contracted by a licensed agency, licensed home child-care agencies, and licensed child-care centres.
Some of the new rules dictate that a provider can only care for a maximum of two children under the age of two; that a licensed home child-care provider can care for a maximum of six children under the age of 13; and that the maximum number of children applies regardless of the number of adults in the home.
Eitz Chaim was one of the schools affected by the new legislation, forcing it to temporarily shut down its nursery and pre-nursery programs, but it has since been granted a temporary license while administrators work to meet the requirements on issues such as zoning, fire code, health code, building code, insurance and specific operating policies.
In a letter than went out in September to parents of children enrolled at Eitz Chaim, administrators explained that although they were aware of the new regulations that would come into effect for the 2015-16 school year, the school’s legal counsel advised them that the Ministry of Education would likely allow the preschool to operate with an extension while they sorted things out with the province.
Administrators hoped Eitz Chaim’s preschools would be allowed to operate as religious, cultural and linguistic instruction programs, which they thought would exempt them from the license requirement, but that was not the case.
Carly Haber, a mother of twin two-year- old boys enrolled at Eitz Chaim, said she suspects the confusion and postponement of the nursery and pre-school programs was the result of “bad legal advice.”
“My older son’s school was totally ahead of the game. We found out about the ministry guidelines last year. They said they’d be making all these changes. I should have thought to check with Eitz Chaim, but the truth is they said they were told they got legal advice that they qualified for a religious exemption, but there’s no reason they would have gotten a religious exemption. They’re a school,” Haber said.
Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Education, explained that “schools serving children under the age of 3.8 years that were previously exempted from licensing requirements were given over a year to prepare, and were notified in writing as early as March 6, 2014.”
He said the ministry extended the deadline for the licensing requirement to be met by grandfathered private schools by six months, from July 1, 2015, to January 1, 2016, but schools would have had to apply for that by January 2015, in order to operate while the application process was ongoing.
“There was also follow-up with schools who missed that deadline, including multiple phone calls, correspondence and on-site visits,” Wheeler said.
Requests for comment from Eitz Chaim were not returned by The CJN’s deadline.
Gan Sameach preschool, which operated out of the Shomrei Shabbos Chevrah Mishnayos Congregation in Toronto, and served about 40 children, was another school that was not licensed when the new regulations came into effect. It remains closed indefinitely.
“My neighbour was sending their kids to Gan Sameach,” Haber said.
“She was stuck, but now her daughter is with a babysitter,” she said, adding that some mothers offered to help.
“Some people just felt that they could have a playgroup in their house. They said, ‘I have one of my kids at home and I could take two more kids and make some money.’”