CHICAGO (CBS) — Forest Playschool, an outdoor preschool in the North Park neighborhood, must shut down by August because it cannot obtain the state license it needs to keep operating after losing its permit from the Chicago Park District.
The outdoor daycare blossomed out of a graduate project five years ago. Rain or shine, down to 15 degrees, playtime and snacktime are held outdoors every day, every season.
That all will come to an end in late August, after the Chicago Park District pulled the preschool’s permit earlier this month, following a monthslong dispute over licensing with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
DCFS said the Child Care Act of 1969 requires preschools to be in a physical facility.
Another major component of the law requires daycares to be secure from the public. Since Forest Playschool is operated in a public park, technically anyone can walk through at any time.
DCFS said it could grant Forest Playschool an exemption if the Chicago Park District took responsibility for the program, but the Park District declined.
“The Chicago Park District determined it will not renew its agreement with the Forest PlaySchool to operate in Walking Stick Woods. The Chicago Park District remains committed to pursuing and supporting nature play opportunities at North Park Village and parks across the city.”
Without a permit from the Park District, the preschool can’t get a state license, and must shut down by Aug. 23.
“It was clear to me that it is actually impossible to get this kind of program licensed in Illinois the way the law stands now. So I wasn’t that shocked,” Forest Playschool executive director Theresa Weed said.
Several neighbors have been complaining about Forest Playschool for months, saying the area used by the preschool has become unattractive, and raising concerns about the day camp’s use of open flames. Opponents also lodged complaints about inadequate supervision of children in the day camp.
A public meeting hosted by the Park District in March grew raucous as opponents shouted out complaints while a Park District official was trying to explain everyone would get an opportunity to speak.
However, Weed said the preschool has a five-to-one student-teacher ratio, and has argued not only are the children there fostering a love for the environment, but are learning to clean it up.
“There’s just no downside to this. It’s completely practical, it’s completely doable, and there just isn’t a downside. The children just go and thrive and develop such excellent social skills, and problem-solving skills, and self-regulation skills,” Weed said. That’s what you need to go into regular school. That’s what you need to go into an academic institution is resilience, and courage, and curiosity, and self-confidence.”
Now parents are stuck finding an alternative once the preschool shuts down at the end of summer.