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Squaring the circle 

Kathryn Hammerbeck may soon be required to greet a child pleasantly. She also may be required to hire only people of "good character."

The owner of the Princeton Academy could have to hang at least 10 "visual displays" in every classroom at her early-learning center on East Boulder Street. Two of them will "represent nature realistically," and another two will celebrate diversity.

From 2008 until this past spring, Hammerbeck, who's also executive director of the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, participated in a workgroup tasked with rewriting Colorado's licensing rules for centers that cater to young children. The rules are overseen by the Division of Child Care Licensing and Administration in the Department of Human Services; they apply, she says, to all commercial preschools and child-care centers.

At its last meeting in April, the workgroup agreed on a proposed rules package that Hammerbeck says would ensure children's health and safety.

"For the most part, I agreed with the rules that came out," she says. "I did not think that it was going to be burdensome."

To her surprise, however, DHS has since circulated a 96-page "Proposed Child Care Center Rules" packet, with a number of additions that Hammerbeck says she never saw.

"They did that without vetting any of these changes through the stakeholders group," she says. "And because they didn't get any input, they have some rules in there that make it really difficult for a provider to comply."

The 96 pages run quite a gamut.

For instance, one rule states that children shall not be required to participate in an activity if they don't want to. So if a provider schedules "circle time," but one little boy doesn't want to sit in a circle and sing or read with the group, that provider will have to offer two alternative activities.

To provide those activities, Hammerbeck says, there might be an additional staffing requirement.

Other mandates could also be costly. One would require a diapering station and a hand-washing sink for every 20 preschoolers. Never mind the fact that "preschool children are 3s and 4s, and could even be 5-year-olds," well beyond diapering age, Hammerbeck says. Or that older facilities may not have a hand-washing sink in every classroom, and that when she got a price quote for a hand-washing sink for one of her rooms, it was $5,000.

Rosemarie Allen, the director of the Division of Child Care, points out that many of these additional rules are "quality indicators" that come directly from the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, an industry-standard assessment tool.

"This is nothing new," she says, insisting that the workgroup was aware that the rules would be added.

Further, Allen points out that her agency is in the middle of a process; many of these proposed rules won't make the final cut.

The Division of Child Care is currently soliciting input across the state; Colorado Springs' meeting happened in May, but Pueblo and Denver have meetings scheduled for June 26 and 28, respectively. And anyone can offer opinions in a survey at colorado.gov/CDHS.

The rules will then go back before the workgroup to which Hammerbeck belongs; after their discussion, the Board of Health will make a final vote.

Needless to say, Hammerbeck will be pushing for some changes.

"Licensing should be health and safety," says Hammerbeck, "not how many visual aids you have on the wall."

chet@csindy.com

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