University of Colorado Boulder Children’s Center on trial for state violations



The University of Colorado’s Boulder Children’s Center was cited following a June inspection by the Colorado Department of Human Services into state records of safety hazards, non-compliance with child-worker relationships, and other violations.

The state’s findings were echoed in a letter from staff at the CU Children’s Center to campus HR, in which staff raised concerns about child safety, staffing levels, and the quality of education for the children they care for.

Teacher Bella Tracey, who has worked at the center for more than 12 years, said problems had worsened since the center reopened last August after it closed during the pandemic.

“The children’s safety is at serious risk because we have no staff,” said Tracey.

Tracey once described having nine toddlers in her classroom – government regulations limit the ratio to five toddlers per adult – because another teacher was not supposed to start and so arriving children came into her room.

She appealed the violation to the state regulatory authorities.

“I thought, ‘If something happens to one of these kids, I’ll go to jail,'” she said.

The CU Children’s Center is affected by a nationwide shortage of skilled early childhood educators, CU Boulder spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra said in a statement.

“Since the fall of 2020, HR and campus management have been working with the children’s center as part of a change management process to support the changes at the center related to COVID-19 while responding to the ongoing staff shortage,” said Parra.

State official found security breaches

The CU Children’s Center currently has 64 children and 12 employees. It serves families in CU Boulder as well as the wider bouldering community, Parra said.

According to the law, the center must have at least one employee in a room with five infants or toddlers up to 3 years of age. As the children get older, the mandatory government quotas increase so that more children can be supervised by an adult.

“The center meets state quotas based on the age of the children and is working to hire additional staff. Recruiting daycare staff remains a challenge nationally and the center is working to increase pay to attract candidates, ”Parra said in a statement.

The position, classified as Early Childhood Educator 1, currently has a salary range of $ 31,200 to $ 40,020, Parra said. The center has previously employed student staff, but not during the pandemic, and Parra declined to provide demographic information to the centre’s staff in order to protect privacy. According to Tracey, the staff is mostly women.

The Department of Human Services inspection at the CU Children’s Center was prompted by a complaint on June 9 that there were insufficient staff to handle the number of children. When state officials visited the center on June 18, the report said they found that a toddler in one classroom had too many children, so a center administrator came into the classroom to fix the problem.

According to the report, the state official found 18 other violations unrelated to the original complaint during the inspection. Violations included splintering wood on playground equipment, sharp metal edges of a drainpipe near a playground, non-compliant play equipment, cabinets that are not attached to walls, chipped exterior paint, and inserts that read “Keep out of the reach of children” that are kept on a hallway shelf where children can access them.

In one case, the state official found that the CU Children’s Center was failing to comply with federal dietary regulations for school meals because teachers could not leave their classrooms to get milk for the children.

In a statement, Parra said the CU Children’s Center regularly consults state licensing and is working closely with the office to quickly resolve violations found during the inspections.

Quality collapsed due to a lack of staff

The letter from employees of the CU Children’s Center to the Human Resources Department of CU Boulder describes how inadequate staffing results in children and teachers being regularly moved from room to room in order to maintain the required conditions, teachers for long periods without a break or opportunity , in the bathroom and teachers do not have time to prepare lessons.

“The current operating systems implemented by the administration have created an unsafe environment for the children while reducing the ability to connect organically with families, learn about their cultures and societal norms, and use this information to help our children to promote and support. “and their families”, it says in the letter.

Two years ago, Tracey said, there were always three teachers in a classroom, plus student workers or volunteers, and at least six substitutes.

Now there is the absolute minimum number of teachers per student, no working students and a substitute who works as a full-time teacher. It is not possible to take time off, said Tracey, because no one is working for you.

“The quality of care has declined because of a staff shortage,” said Tracey. “As much as we try every day, we are unable to offer the same quality of care as we did two years ago. It frustrates me because I’m a good teacher and I love the kids and I would love to give them everything I’ve always done, but now it’s just not possible. “

The stress on teachers also leads to extreme burnout, said Tracey and former teacher Donna Fayard-Gurung.

Fayard-Gurung started volunteering at the center in 1995 as a student and had been employed since 1998 until she left two weeks ago.

The job’s physical and emotional toll is why she left.

“I’m a single mother and my daughter will earn more when I get home at the end of the day,” said Fayard-Gurung tearfully.

Tracey said she applied for sick leave because she felt like a different person. Sometimes she feels that the stress, frustration, and overwork are all draining her ability to care.

“I don’t react the same. I feel emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted because we have so much more work to do with the staff shortage, ”she said.

Fayard-Gurung said she had also received discriminatory comments about her age, disability due to traumatic brain injury, and Native American heritage. A center administrator who was forced to attend meetings about the discriminatory comments called these compliance meetings “powwows,” said Fayard-Gurung, which is a Native American ceremony or social gathering with song and dance.

The letter to Human Resources was sent to the centre’s administration and the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, Parra said.

“The university continues to work with staff to address existing concerns,” she said.

“The children are dollar signs”

The letter from staff at the CU Children’s Center also describes challenges that arise when an adult with five to seven toddlers or 10 to 12 preschoolers works alone in a room for an extended period of time, especially because a child who needs special attention needs attention separated from the other children by the teacher.

In some cases, staffing is so inadequate that children are moved to different rooms one or more times a day in order to maintain the required teacher-child ratio, the letter says.

“This is not in the best interests of the child by the recommended standards. In a single day for a single instance, that’s understandable in an emergency. However, it speaks for a systemic center deficit on a daily basis, ”says the letter.

Employees never know if or when they will be given a break. In one case, a teacher got herself wet because she had to wait 45 minutes for a toilet break, which according to the letter is not an atypical waiting time.

“Our teachers have experienced bladder infections, dehydration, and general physical and mental stress from waiting to go to the bathroom,” the letter said.

It’s not uncommon for teachers not to know which kids will be in their room overnight, said Tracey and Fayard-Gurung, and timetables that used to be set for an entire semester change daily or several times a day.

CU executives work closely with government licenses to ensure safety guidelines and protocols are followed, and maintaining staff-to-child relationships is a priority, according to Parra. The center is also working with a childcare agency and filling vacancies, Parra said.

“The centre’s leadership will continue to work with staff and government licenses to prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone at the center,” Parra said in a statement. “The children’s center continues to be an important and integral part of the CU Boulder and the larger bouldering community.”

The letter from the center staff closes with a quote from the center management that this is the “new normal” and that it must be flexible.

“… if this is the new normal then we are babysitters and not teachers, we are a sub-par institution and we have to agree as a group that we are only claiming to be sub-par and we will all focus on to get through every day without meeting our own expectations and probably not meeting parents’ expectations, ”the letter reads.

“We will have to accept that we are exposing ourselves, the center and the university to a possible legal battle or worse because of the below-average conditions. This is not what we want for our center, and it is a significant lowering of our standards in every way, ”the letter continues.

Tracey and Fayard-Gurung hope the center will hire more staff, accept fewer students, and treat teachers with respect.

“Teachers leave because they are at their limit,” said Tracey. “They packed the school with minimal staff. The kids are dollar signs, that’s what it feels like. “



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