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Local before- and after-school programs need DHS licensure to continue

ICCSD board requests alternate partnership proposals if city opts not to obtain license

IOWA CITY– The Iowa City Community School District’s before- and after-school programs in North Liberty and Coralville may be affected by a new Iowa law that requires school childcare programs to be licensed through the Department of Human Services.
During the school board’s July 14 meeting, the directors agreed the district should have a plan in place to make sure programs in the two cities will not be interrupted.
The law, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2016, will require DHS licensure for all childcare programs run by schools, with some exemptions. The district currently partners with the North Liberty Recreation Center to run Garner Elementary’s before- and after-school program, and with the Coralville Recreation Center on Wickham, Borlaug, and Van Allen elementary schools’ programs.
These programs lack licensure, but officials from both cities’ recreation departments have said the programs provide recreation, not childcare, and should therefore be exempt from the law.
ICCSD Health and Student Services Director Susie Poulton, who presented the issue at last week’s board meeting, said the district has requested advice from an attorney to clarify how recreation center programs would be affected.
According to the DHS website, a program may be exempt from the licensure requirement if it is “administered by a political subdivision of the state that is primarily for recreational or social purposes and is limited to children who are five years of age or older and attending school.” The website lists city park and recreation programs for school-age children as examples.
An information book on the program, produced by the North Liberty Recreation Center, said the program incorporates as many DHS guidelines as possible, despite not being licensed. For instance, the program’s 1:10 child-to-staff ratio is an improvement on the DHS recommendation of 1:15.
The North Liberty City Council plans to discuss the matter at its next meeting July 28.
Poulton and some directors, including President Chris Lynch, stressed the importance of letting the city weigh in on the issue before the district takes action. However, the school board is set to meet the same evening as the council, so the district will not be able to review the council’s decision until the board’s Aug. 11 meeting. That would leave the district with less than two weeks to resolve any remaining issues before the school year officially begins on Aug. 24.
If the North Liberty City Council decides the city cannot comply with the DHS licensure rule, it could result in the elimination of Garner’s program, Poulton said.
She added other DHS-licensed programs would be able to provide childcare for Garner children, if needed. DHS would only take action to discontinue a program if a complaint is filed.
Even so, a change mid-school year would be disruptive to families and should be avoided, Superintendent Stephen Murley said.
The school board also discussed a rule implemented last year, which required all before- and after-school programs that operate in district buildings to meet a minimum standard of Child Care Assistance for income-eligible families, or equivalency, by the 2015-16 school year. The Coralville Recreation Department has elected to use Child Care Assistance income guidelines, but the North Liberty Recreation Center’s program does not offer a no-cost option, making it noncompliant with the rule.
The board unanimously passed a motion by Director Tuyet Baruah allowing the district to request proposals for alternate partnerships in Garner’s before- and after-school program should North Liberty city officials decide not to make any changes.
Then, Baruah said, “Not only are we prepared with a contingency plan, but North Liberty understands we are prepared with a contingency plan.”
The issue is on the agenda for the North Liberty City Council’s July 28 meeting.