Jun. 16, 2023 By Ethan Marshall
State Senator John Liu joined parents, teachers and children from the Rainbow Child Development Center at its Flushing location on Thursday, June 15, for a rally calling on the city’s Department of Education to not close any of its locations.
The threat of closure by the Department of Education (DOE) stems from an investigation they opened into Rainbow shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation came about after a payment dispute between the development center and some parents in regards to an after school program. Despite the anonymous complaints, Rainbow was never granted the opportunity to respond to these accusations.
According to the investigators’ report, the preschool was requiring parents to enroll in the fee-based after school program in order to be enrolled in the free pre-K program. However, no more than half of the kids are actually enrolled in the after school program, seemingly contradicting this claim.
Additionally, Rainbow claims that it is not up to them to determine who enrolls in their pre-K program, but rather it is DOE. It is only after children are enrolled that Rainbow will offer the afters chool program. Children not enrolled in the universal pre-K program are not offered the after school program.
According to Rainbow, there had been very little communication between them and DOE since the investigation began until last May. It was then that investigators suddenly recommended DOE cease its relationship with the development center. They accused the investigation of being false and unfair. Parents who had their kids enrolled in Rainbow began to receive notices this month that they would need to enroll their children into other schools, to which they never even applied.
“Hundreds of families rely on these schools,” Liu said. “The DOE not only starved them of payments for two years, but now they’re saying the school may be shut down entirely and families who have attended Rainbow for years are being pushed into other schools they never applied to. DOE’s questionable and seemingly hasty decisions and its utter lack of due process is leaving Rainbow and the families it serves in a lurch. We’re calling on the DOE to make good on its payments and ongoing contract so that families can continue to attend these beloved community schools.”
Within 10 days of the investigation’s findings coming up with this recommendation, Rainbow appealed the decision. Additionally, nearly 300 letters of support were sent by parents to DOE stating they were not required to enroll in after school, contrary to what the investigation concluded. They also stated their desire for their children to continue attending Rainbow Child Development Center.
“These accusations by the DOE are absolutely false and unfair, and we never even had a chance to respond before the DOE started telling parents they couldn’t come here anymore,” Rainbow Child Development Center Owner Christine Ye said. “We have been nothing but forthcoming with the DOE and have provided ample evidence that these claims are false. Telling parents to enroll elsewhere before we’ve even had a chance to respond is an injustice, and we are calling on the city to do the right thing and keep our school open!”
Rainbow also alleges that the city still owes $2 million in outstanding payments to Rainbow. They said this is because the school continued to operate throughout the period of the investigation.
Liu said this situation reminded him of a similar story nearly 20 years ago. He said the DOE went after an early childhood program, Red Apple Child Development, spending multiple years and millions of dollars doing so. However, at the end of the day, the parents ended up paying out of pocket for the Pre-K slots rather than DOE because they had a lot of trust in that program.
The parents on hand at the rally spoke very positively of Rainbow Child Development Center. Some were already making plans to enroll their younger kids.
“My wife and I were very lucky when Rainbow decided to open a new location right near our apartment right when our first child was born,” said Anthony Sannazzaro, whose child attends Rainbow. “My son was accepted into the daycare when he was only a few months old and continued to attend Rainbow through the pre-K program, which he’ll be graduating from in the next week or so. His time there has been excellent. He loves his teachers and friends. He gets up in the morning wanting to go to school and, most importantly, he learns. The staff has always been fair, flexible and honest with us.”
According to Sannazzaro, he and his wife entered their daughter into the same program. They didn’t learn the DOE would not be sponsoring Rainbow’s pre-K program until they received a notice from the DOE stating the school to which they were assigned was not Rainbow or any of their other choices, but rather one over a mile away in the opposite direction of their normal commute. He noted there were at least ten other schools closer to them, but they were at least 20 spots back on each of the waiting lists for these schools.
“This means this area is underserved,” Sannazzaro said. “There are clearly many families not getting into the schools that they’ve chosen. Meanwhile, the DOE is deciding to pull programs from the area. This is very counterintuitive. It hurts families, especially those who rely on subsidized child care, and devalues our city. I hope the DOE will reconsider their position, reinstate Rainbow and continue to invest in the future towards children of Queens.”
According to a spokesperson, the DOE has not yet terminated their contracts with Rainbow. The spokesperson claimed that, in the wake of the investigator’s report, the DOE has since requested and received additional information from Rainbow that they are now reviewing.
“The independent investigation by the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District (SCI) has substantiated that the provider violated the terms of their contract with the DOE,” the DOE spokesperson said in a statement. “As a result, the site’s enrollment operations are suspended, pending a further, detailed review of the investigation’s findings.”