A group of parents in Carleton Place, Ont., says the Upper Canada District School Board is failing to comply with a legal obligation to provide extended care for their children after the sudden closure of a before- and after-school program at an elementary school.
The child-care program at Arklan Community Public School in Carleton Place, west of Ottawa, is operated by a third party called Day by Day Child Learning Centre Inc.
The program was closed on Sept. 13 after a protection order was issued by the Ministry of Education.
It hasn't reopened.
Adam Willis, whose seven-year-old daughter went to the daycare centre, said he and other parents have been given no information about why the centre was forced to close, and when and if it will reopen.
Ken McGee says the sudden closure of the before- and after-school program at Arklan has been frustrating because parents have not been told why it closed, or when or if it will be reopening. (Robyn Miller/CBC News)
"I think everyone can be understanding and find means to deal with things for a short amount of time, but after a while we need a solution and to get back to normal," Willis said.
Willis, who works in home renovations, said he doesn't have alternative child care and is missing hours of work to care for his daughter.
"We're not getting ahead, that's for sure, and something needs to change," he said.
CBC tried to contact the daycare operator but did not receive a response.
In a written statement, the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) said the ministry told the board the program was closed due to "policy and procedural issues," but did not have information regarding the exact type of infractions.
Daycare owner apologized for inconvenience
In an email obtained by CBC, the owner of the daycare centre wrote to parents on Sept. 28 to update them and apologize for the inconvenience caused by the closure.
The email also included correspondence to the UCDSB where the owner expressed concerns they would not be able to find enough staff to operate the Arklan program.
"Although we fixed the non-compliances, I can not submit them to the Ministry until I have proper staffing in place, which I do not," the email said.
It went on to say "there are no RECEs (registered early childhood educators) to hire in Lanark County, especially in Carleton Place."
"If the school board and Arklan want to get licensed to operate the before- and after-school at Arklan, I really wouldn't mind," the email read.
UCDSB legally obligated to provide care, lawyer says
Ben Piper, a lawyer with Goldblatt Partners in Ottawa, was retained to draft a letter to the UCDSB on behalf of 16 parents whose children attended the program.
He said the board is under a legal obligation to provide before- and after-school care at all times.
Piper said the Education Act, which governs the school board, has a narrow exception that relieves the board of that obligation for seven days, if a program run by a third-party provider "is terminated or ceases to operate during a school year."
"After that, the act provides, the school board has to put in place either the same program, reopen the same program, or an equivalent program with the same number of hours," Piper said.
The school board maintains it is only required to follow up with alternative options for child care if there is a permanent closure.
"At this time, the provider has not given the UCDSB formal notice that they want to break their lease agreement or close the facility permanently," the UCDSB said in a written statement.
Piper said legislation is more powerful than any contract the board may have signed with the provider and it should not "relieve the school board of its own obligation."
Parents want answers
Ken McGee said he is trying to make things work to care for his six-year-old son who also attended the program.
"It's just frustrating," McGee said. "It's been a month now and they still haven't got us an answer on an ETA or a plan or anything."
Jen Watters said she doesn't blame the school but would like more information.
Jen Watters is thankful she is able to work from home because she doesn't have care for her son before and after school. (Robyn Miller/CBC News)
"It really left a lot of us in the lurch," she said. "We're very limited in the options we have out here in Carleton Place, so this really does need to open back up."
Since the closure, the UCDSB said it has been working with the provider and "researching alternative solutions should the provider give notice that they want to break their lease agreement."