Panel studying high school day-care center gets OK to continue

October 13, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

The school board agreed to let an independent task force continue research on opening a day-care center at Westminster High School.

By late winter, the coalition will return with a formal request and more information for the board to use in making a decision.

The Carroll County Coalition for Teen Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting has spent the last year exploring a way to put a day care center for infants next to a high school to help keep teen mothers from dropping out.

School systems that have such a program include Baltimore and Baltimore County, and Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Gettysburg, Pa.

At yesterday's Carroll County Board of Education meeting, one parent and one school board candidate objected to the idea.

Supporters expected to run into opposition in a county as conservative as Carroll, but say the focus of the program would be abstinence, and that the center would not distribute contraceptives.

"We don't want teens to be moms," said Lynda Gainor, a member of the task force and deputy director of Human Services Programs Inc. "But when it happens, we have to deal with the issues that come with that."

According to the coalition, 62 young women attending Carroll County Schools are parents.

The teen parents would be responsible for paying for the day care, either out-of-pocket or with state vouchers. But the center would give them a place to put their babies while they finish high school.

Board member Ann Ballard asked whether it wouldn't be wiser for the girls to get private day care, since the cost will be no different.

But availability, more than cost, is the issue, said Edwin Davis, director of pupil-personnel services for Carroll County Schools.

"I've had students say to me, 'Even though we're willing to pay, we cannot find infant care.' We'd be increasing the care that's available," Mr. Davis said.

He said that about 24 students a year go on home-teaching because of pregnancy.

Usually, they don't come back. According to the Carroll County Health Department, 73 percent of the girls who go there for prenatal care drop out of high school, compared to a countywide drop-out rate of 2.85 percent, Ms. Gainor said.

Few day-care centers in Carroll County accept infants because it costs more for the increased staff.

Maryland has strict standards for day care. Home day care must be licensed, and in homes and centers, the state requires one adult for no more than three children under 2 years old.

The fee for the teen parents would be $135 a week, similar to other private centers. If a teen's family income was low enough for her to receive welfare, she would qualify for a voucher from the Department of Social Services to cover $109 of the weekly cost.

Mr. Davis and Ms. Gainor were unable to answer some of the school board's questions because they are still researching the cost, insurance and statistics on counties that have put day-care centers in their high schools.

The coalition is asking the schools to cover three expenses: transportation, maintenance, and $125,000 to buy a portable classroom, to be placed at Westminster High School.

The cost of maintenance would be minimal, with duties covered by the existing maintenance staff at Westminster, said Vernon Smith, director of school support services.

The cost of transportation, however, is still unknown, Mr. Davis said. Staff are researching how much it would cost to use special education buses for the girls and babies to come to school together.

Lisa Summers, a Westminster mother, said she believed the center would send the wrong message to students. She has a daughter in eighth grade and a son in fifth grade.

"The idea of this center being at the school scares me," Ms. Summers said. "They're going to show abstinence is the way, but if you make a mistake, we'll be here to catch you. I believe that is the family's [role]."

Ms. Summers, of Westminster, said the money spent on the center would take resources away from other students and direct them to a small number of teens.

She balked at the center as a way to prevent students from going on welfare as adults.

"That is a form of welfare. You're starting welfare at an earlier age," Ms. Summers said.

School board candidate Laura E. Albers said taxpayers shouldn't shoulder a burden that belongs within a family.

"Is it the right decision for Carroll County Schools to operate a day care center now?" she said.

Even if the schools wouldn't be paying the weekly cost of care and students get state vouchers that are already available, she said, "That's still taxpayer money.

"I just don't think Carroll County is ready for this," she said. "It's still a very conservative county."

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