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DC play group for 2-year-olds challenged by bureaucracy

WASHINGTON — For a few hours a week, parents and their 2-year-olds meet for a play group on Capitol Hill. But, the kids and their parents drew scrutiny from the D.C. government, which threatened regulation, setting off alarms among parents and the city council.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education demanded in September that the play group, the Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School, hire a full-time staff person with a degree in early childhood education.

“It’s just a play group, just parents switching off, watching each other’s children play, for free,” said Lis Kidder, who takes part in the play group with her 2-year-old.

The play group meets in a room at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on East Capitol Street Northeast. It was founded by congregants of the church and has served the neighborhood since 1973, handed off each year or so to new sets of parents.

“Look, we’re just having a play group for three hours on a Friday. No one’s getting paid. We’re not running a business, and we’re perfectly capable of doing this without government oversight,” Kidder said.

After OSSE decided to regulate the play group, the D.C. Council blew the whistle on the bureaucracy, approving emergency legislation to protect the group from regulation by OSSE.

“I think it’s an overreach by the government to come in and try to regulate something that’s been an informal cooperative play group by parents for the last 40 years and has worked incredibly well,” said Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen. “And, these parents care, first and foremost, about the health and safety of their kids.”

He added, “It’s basically the government trying to apply a kind of one-size-fits-all approach here and trying to treat something that is not day care as if it were full-fledged day care.”

Other play groups in Petworth and elsewhere in the city could be threatened by the moves to regulate them. Kidder said the five-decade-old Capitol Hill group couldn’t afford to hire a full-time staff person.

The D.C. Council is working on a permanent fix that would keep the play groups out of the regulatory reach of the government.

“We introduced permanent legislation … so that we can move something forward … to make sure the city’s interests are protected from a health and safety standpoint, but to make sure we’re not closing the door on these types of informal play groups that really are great for the kids and great for the families,” Allen said.


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