UMN parents condemn planned daycare closure

In response to widespread criticism, the University announced it will convene a child care advisory group.

by Helen Sabrowsky

After nine months on the wait list, Caitlin Caspi was excited to finally send her daughter to the University of Minnesota Child Development Center in 2016. The location is convenient for both Caspi, an associate professor, and her husband, who works on campus. 

But the University’s decision to close the center means Caspi’s family will begin the lengthy child care center application process again. 

“It’s discouraging to think that we have to go back on wait lists and disrupt her care,” Caspi said of her daughter. “She’s the one whose life is going to be disrupted the most by this decision.”

Like Caspi, many parents are scrambling to find child care options after the University sent an email Jan. 22 alerting parents to its decision to close the 45-year-old Child Development Center in summer 2019. In response to widespread criticism, the University administration announced this week it would convene a child care advisory group and consider new child care options for the Twin Cities campus.

“I was stunned and deeply dismayed to learn about the Center’s closure in such an abrupt way,” Caspi said. 

Harming morale

The CDC was founded in 1974 as a model demonstration and training site for early childhood development and currently cares for 140 children, ages 3 months to 5-and-a-half years old. Its reputation and location make it an attractive option, said Megan Kocher, a University science librarian whose daughter has attended the center for four years.

Kocher’s wife also works at the University, and the on-campus location means the family can commute together, she said. Plus, the flexibility and proximity make them more productive at work, she said.

The center will close in 18 months, which many parents say isn’t enough time to find comparable child care options. Many child care centers have two-year waitlists, Kocher said. 

Infant care is more difficult to find and often involves even longer wait lists, said Tracy Twine, an associate professor whose son attends the CDC. 

The closure will harm faculty productivity and morale, Caspi said.

“Last Thursday, I received a notification from the National Institutes of Health that I had received a $3.8 million grant… Rather than get to work, I spent my day researching childcare options and worrying,” she said. “Ultimately, this is going to have a negative impact on the University, and it’s not just about my family. It’s about the whole University community.”

Twine said parents are also upset with the University’s perceived lack of communication and transparency. 

“Some administrators have lent a sympathetic ear, but no one has been able to offer … a serious indication that they are considering changing the decision,” Caspi said. “There’s no talk about whether or not this would happen in time for current parents to be part of the new facility.”

Administrative response

After the announcement, parents formed the Facebook group UMCDC Parents Organizing in order to facilitate conversation and action, she said. 

Along with reaching out to University administrative leadership, parents have also contacted state legislators, Twine said. Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, responded to the CDC’s closure with a statement expressing her disappointment in the decision. In her statement, Omar also said that she will ask Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, chair of the higher education committee, to hold hearings on the issue. 

Karen Hanson, Executive Vice President and Provost, released a letter on Tuesday announcing she will work with the Faculty Consultative Committee and the Senate Consultative Committee to convene an advisory group, including “representation of the range of interested parties — including CDC staff and parents.”

Plus, a plan is in place to create a request for proposals to “consider new child care options for the Twin Cities campus,” since CEHD will no longer provide the service, the letter says.

Kocher said she wants the University to explore options for keeping the CDC open, employing its teachers and eventually expanding the Center to meet the University’s needs. Before announcing its closure, the Center had a wait list of about 200 children, she said. 

“I’m skeptical that it can be so easily replaced or that parents can find a replacement,” Caspi said. “It’s much bigger than just single families complaining about their care being disrupted, and this really sends a strong message to faculty that are in critical stages of their family life and career.”