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Youth Club Licensing Requirement Reversed

Times Staff Writer

State officials, reversing an earlier ruling, have decided that the Escondido Boys’ and Girls’ Club is a drop-in recreation facility--not a day-care center--and thus does not need to be licensed by the state.

The decision overturns an earlier one in which the club was said to be operating an overcrowded and understaffed day-care center. Based on the size of the facility and the number of qualified adult supervisors, the club was ordered to limit the number of youngsters who participate in club activities to 154, even though the club routinely attracts more than 225 children daily. As a result of that earlier ruling, the club has been closing its doors this summer after the first 154 youngsters showed up, sending many parents scrambling to find other activities to occupy their children during the day.

Club officials have maintained all along that they were running a drop-in recreation facility, not a day-care center, and therefore should not be subject to day-care regulations.

And now Fred Miller, assistant deputy director of community care licensing in Sacramento, says he agrees with the club officials, and has overturned licensing officials in the San Diego office of the state Department of Social Services who made the earlier finding.

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Miller said that, after visiting the facility and meeting with the administrators of other boys’ and girls’ clubs in Southern California, he decided that the club is exempt from day-care licensing requirements, just as city-sponsored recreation programs for children are.

The only condition, Miller said, is that the club not offer services for preschool-age children, which would be tantamount to day care.

“The fact is, children can go in and leave on their own will, and there doesn’t seem to be any public or parental expectation or contract between parents and the club for the provision of care and supervision of children,” Miller said.

Thus, he said, the club is little more than a drop-in recreation hall where youngsters can occupy themselves without formal enrollment or attendance in specific programs.

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One of the reasons that state licensing officials had claimed that the club was a day-care center was because it sent buses out to local elementary schools to pick up children after school and take them to the club.

That service reflected a day-care approach, officials had said.

But Miller said on Tuesday that club members, who pay $5 a year in dues for access to the club and its play equipment, were not required to get on the buses to go to the club after school.

Those who did simply preferred the bus over walking or riding bicycles to the club, he said.

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Tom Hersant, the district manager in San Diego for licensing, said he wasn’t going to argue with the ruling by Miller in Sacramento. “He’s in charge of the policy unit, and we’re the ones who implement the policy,” Hersant said.

Hersant had told the club’s board of directors that before his office would license the club to handle more than 154 youngsters, more adult staff members would have to be hired and someone other than Craig Timmons, the club’s executive director, and Jane Goldschmidt, director of extended services, would have to be answerable to the state.

The state did not feel “comfortable” licensing a day-care program under their leadership, Hersant wrote in a letter to club directors in July.

But Hersant, Miller and Police Chief Jim Connole, president of the club’s board of directors, agreed Tuesday that the issue of removing Timmons and Goldschmidt was now moot, given the fact the club does not need to be licensed.

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Connole said club executives feel vindicated by Miller’s decision.

“Craig (Timmons) has maintained all along that this was a gray area, and that the day-care laws didn’t pertain to boys’ and girls’ clubs,” Connole said.

“This whole issue has been for naught, and it’s unfortunate that some reputations got smeared.”

Confusing the issue has been a separate contract with the state Department of Education under which the club has provided day care for about 55 youngsters of school age.

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Timmons said Tuesday that the club will continue to provide that specialized program, separate and aside from the drop-in activities. He said the adult teachers on hand for the Department of Education program have not and will not supervise programs for the drop-in youngsters.

Miller said he was not embarrassed by the state’s turnabout in defining the club’s status.

“I spent a lot of time with Craig Timmons, the board of directors and the townspeople, and everyone has a common understanding of why we were involved,” Miller said.

“The issue of whether a boys’ and girls’ club should be licensed had not come up before in my nine years with the program. This was our first opportunity to look at the question, to determine whether they should be licensed.”

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