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Baltimore daycare center reopens after two-week emergency closure

The Baltimore Montessori school in South Baltimore pictured on August 10, 2023. Colorful drawings line a brick wall with windows leading up a stone path to a black door.
Meredith Cohn
The Baltimore Banner
The Baltimore Montessori school in South Baltimore pictured on August 10, 2023.

As parents picked up their children from The Baltimore Montessori day care center on Friday, July 28, they were handed a letter – announcing an immediate emergency closure of the facility.

Now, after two weeks of parents scrambling to find temporary daycare, the Locust Point facility opens on Tuesday. Some parents say the closure never should have happened in the first place.

The state’s Office of Child Care conducted three inspections of the daycare center in late July after receiving an anonymous complaint about overcapacity issues ten days before the center shut down. Duringeeach visit, the inspector found classrooms with too many children or too little staff to meet state requirements.

According to the official notice letter from State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury, sent to WYPR by a Montessori parent, the emergency license suspension was “required to protect the health, safety, or welfare of a child.”

But Abby Zalis, whose 1-year-old attends the daycare, said the state closure was an “overreaction.”

“You get this letter like, ‘We had to shut down because of the safety of your kids,’ and we're like, ‘Oh my gosh, did they do an inspection today and find out that they're serving the kids bleach or something?” Zalis said. “And only to find out that three days ago, they did an inspection. Like that was three days ago. If our kids were in such danger, why weren't they shut down three days ago?”

According to the state’s inspection report, some classrooms had one teacher caring for nearly 20 children. The state requires two teachers to be in a room with more than 10 three-to-five-year-olds, or more than eight children under the age of two.

“If one teacher calls out, then they just don't have a substitute staff to cover it,” Zalis said, leaving rooms over capacity.

Some rooms at the center had one or two extra children, the report said. Those children were shuffled to classrooms with space at the time of inspection, solving the issue immediately.

Zalis said she’s been to three daycare centers before the Montessori, and moving children around is “what all the daycares do every day.”

Only 1% of the state’s seven thousand daycare centers receive emergency suspensions like The Baltimore Montessori, said Maryland State Department of Education representative Shane McCormick in an email.

“Where a program is overcapacity and understaffed, there is a substantial risk of injury that must be addressed before that risk is realized,” the emailed statement read.

Trevor Potash, whose three-year-old daughter attends the Montessori daycare, told WYPR in early August that the stay-at-home childcare reminded him of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right before [my wife and I] go to bed, we strategize like, what are we going to do tomorrow?” he said. “Everyday, we're figuring it out on the fly.”

On August 10, parents received an email from Endeavors Schools announcing the reopening of The Baltimore Montessori after the company signed a compliance agreement with the state department of education.

Stefanie Creager, the company’s regional director of operations, said in the email that school leaders hired new teachers and staff to fill vacancies. School leaders were also hosting interviews for new staff during the inspection on July 25, according to the inspection report.

The Locust Point facility opened on Monday for parents and students to drop by and see their teachers. Potash said his daughter immediately hugged one of the staff workers who cooks the school lunches.

Regular daycare schedule resumes for children and teachers on Tuesday.

Bri Hatch (they/them) is a Report for America Corps Member joining the WYPR team to cover education.