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Fixing NY’s lousy after-school rules: Two state agencies and criss-crossing red tape - New York Daily News

by Sr. LoMonaco  

It is hard to find anyone who does not think a school benefits from having an after-school program. The programs are an ideal way to protect and nurture students while helping families juggle work schedules.

Unfortunately, well-intentioned bureaucracy is getting in the way of common sense in regulating these programs, and our children and families are paying the price.

This is a story of regulation run amok, and it starts in Albany.

After-school programs in schools are regulated by two different agencies at the state level. The state Education Department effectively oversees safety during the school day — its rules and regulations are tailored to the realities of school buildings.

After-school programs, however, must also adhere to the school-age child-care regulations set by the Office of Children and Family Services. The office’s regulations are written to appropriately address facility and safety issues, but with settings other than public school buildings in mind. Both the office and the Education Department are experts in their own right. But their rules often come into direct conflict with each other.

Here are two examples, although many more could be listed. Have you ever walked into a school without posters and student work on the walls? Probably not; teachers are routinely encouraged to make their classrooms visually engaging.

However, Office of Children and Family Services regulations regard those posters as a fire hazard and, as a result, there are after-school staff throughout the state who every day have to carefully take them down at 3 p.m. — and put them back up at 6 p.m. You can imagine how teachers react when this happens. And you can imagine what a frustration it is for after-school staff to spend time on such tasks when they could be planning exciting activities or talking to teachers about their students’ needs.

The office’s regulations are also at odds with both the state and city plumbing codes when it comes to the appropriate temperature for the hot water in a school bathroom sink, causing school-based after-school programs to be publicly cited as a safety hazard — over a difference of 5 degrees.

What are the consequences of these and many other conflicts?

After-school staff members spend precious hours every month negotiating between school staff, district staff, the Office of Children and Family Services and local inspectors to wade through unnecessary red tape.

Parents go online and see scary warnings about their children’s programs. And in some cases, children are actually out on the streets because programs that would have kept them safe and engaged until their parents come home were waiting — sometimes for a whole school year — for a waiver or a minor repair. This affront to common sense is no one’s fault and certainly is not intentional, but that does not absolve us from finding a solution to the damage caused by dueling regulations.

Fortunately, someone’s listening to complaints. State Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo of Binghamton have a bill that would solve the problem, by simply waiving building-related conflicts for any after-school program operating in a public school building in compliance with Education Department requirements. It’s been approved by the relevant Senate and Assembly committees.

The legislation makes perfect sense. It does not ask the Office of Children and Family Services to change in any way, shape or form regulations tailored to protecting children in other aspects of the after-school program, such as staffing ratios, nutrition, activities or background checks. Nor will it change physical requirements for after-school programs outside a school building.

Let’s fix this crazy quilt of regulations and finally let school-based after-school programs focus on meeting the needs of our children and families.

LoMonaco is executive director of Good Shepherd Services.

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