Mommy's at the Office, Down the Hall

Any working parent knows the dread of that midday call reporting that a child is sick or out of sorts--or that a baby sitter suddenly can't be depended upon. When the child is too young to be in school full time, it typically takes a drive across town to remedy the situation--thus causing a distressed child to wait for help and prompting an adult to be torn between parental and work duties.

But this case of high anxiety has a potential cure. Folks at the Los Angeles Unified School District and City Hall put their heads together to make a good child-care idea an even better one. Since 1989, the city of Los Angeles has offered on-site child care for preschool-age children of city and federal employees. Now, with the encouragement and cooperation of the school district, the city has taken the next logical step--an on-site kindergarten.

If all goes according to plan, City Hall South, across the street from the official City Hall, will add a kindergarten class in August. The class will give first priority to children of employees who live in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The district will provide the teacher. It will be kindergarten as usual, except it will be only a few steps away from where mother or father works. Before- and after-school care--crucial for kindergarten children who often are only in class for half a day--will be provided on-site by the same specialists who care for younger children under the city's preschool program.

The idea is so simple, it's amazing that work-site kindergarten hasn't been tried before in Los Angeles. It's already proven successful in Dade County, Fla. All that's left to be done--and the school board this week already set the wheels in motion--is for the state to grant a building exemption. Because schools and hospitals are subject to stricter building standards, an exemption will be needed in order to permit the City Hall kindergarten class to begin. Because the district is struggling with severe classroom overcrowding and money shortages, the district in the past has been able to get such exemptions. The almost 100 children who would be in City Hall kindergarten would be almost 100 less in district classrooms now bursting at the seams.

The novel kindergarten would provide another bonus. It would demonstrate how excuses can fall when some creative thinking comes into play. For example, many employers have refused to provide any type of on-site child care because of liability fears. But in this case, the city would lease the space to an already insured child-care group; in addition, the city would protect itself legally with certain types of "hold harmless" provisions. It can be done. Some forward-thinking school and city officials are showing the way.

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