Issue of regulating church child care weighed

April 17, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland Department of Human Resources officials will conduct "sample inspections" of church-run child care centers this spring to try to reach a compromise with ministers on state regulations, an official said Friday.

"We're looking for a balance here," said Daryl C. Plevy, department deputy secretary. "We're trying to gather the facts and get an agreement."

Some Christian ministers want their child-care centers to be exempt from department regulations that take effect in December because they fear the state will interfere with their instructional programs.

Two bills introduced in the General Assembly this year to make the centers exempt from state regulations were not voted on and were held for summer study, said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll Republican and a sponsor of the legislation.

Ministers, legislators and regulators have met twice to discuss a compromise and plan to meet again in early May, Mr. Haines said.

One of the issues being debated is whether center employees may spank children. The pastors testified at legislative hearings last month that corporal punishment is part of their program.

Administrators usually call in parents to administer the spanking, they said.

The Rev. Shelton L. Smith of the Church of the Open Door in Westminster, a leader of a statewide group fighting the regulations, said the ministers have "agreed to acquiesce on that."

"We've agreed no staff would administer spankings" and parents would be called in to do it, he said.

Spanking does not play a large part in disciplining pre-schoolers, Mr. Smith said, but it is a deterrent with older students.

Department of Human Resources regulations prohibit any actions that injure children or result in physical pain.

Ms. Plevy said ministers are reading the state Child Care Administration's inspector's manual and are highlighting items they feel should not apply to their centers.

When they finish, regulators will study the items and mark the ones they disagree with, she said.

The ministers and regulators will compare notes at the meeting next mont, she said. The same day, regulators plan to take legislators and ministers on "sample inspections" of several church-run child-care centers, Ms. Plevy said.

The ministers testified in Annapolis that they have no qualms about complying with fire, health and safety regulations and conducting criminal background checks on employees. But they said they do not want the state dictating how they run their programs.

"There is a larger agenda," Mr. Smith said. "They intend to control our Christian schools.

"We work at teaching Christian values and attitudes. And many of those values are not in vogue with humanistic philosophies and the bureaucracy," he said.

Ms. Plevy said the goal of the state regulations is to protect children. Bogus religious organizations in other states have taken advantage of exemptions for churches, she said.

The state does not want to be "picky" or add to the cost of running a child-care center, but it must be careful about which groups are exempt from regulations, she said.

If the ministers and regulators cannot reach a compromise, Mr. ++ Haines said he probably would introduce the legislation again next year.

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