DENVER - For a group of parents - like Amber and Chanthy Na - they spent months researching and finding the right preschool. They placed their name on a year-long waiting list before their son was accepted into Clayton Early Learning.
"He just thrives here," Amber says. "He loves it here."
Her son is now 3 and a half years old and she has a 3-month-old baby currently on the waiting list to start at Clayton in a couple years. But, Wednesday, the Nas and the parents of about 40 other kids found out that they are being bumped out of Clayton Early Learning.
"There isn't sufficient space to be able to offer spots to our tuition-paying families any longer," says Charlotte Brantley, president and CEO of Clayton Early Learning.
Since 2013, Clayton has been running a second school on the Evie Dennis Campus in Green Valley Ranch. Brantley says they wanted to serve that community by running federally-funded Head Start and Early Head Start programs. But, she says that second campus is becoming too costly to run.
"We just can't continue to sustain filling that gap with our own resources," Brantley says.
She says Clayton decided to shut down the Green Valley Ranch campus. The students who are part of the federally-funded program have to move to Clayton's main campus at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard where Na and other parents are tuition-paying customers.
Brantley says in order to make room for around 50 students to make the move, tuition-paying families had to be forced out.
"They have been incredible supporters of this program and we know that their children have benefited greatly from this program," Brantley says. "This is a very difficult decision to come to."
Katie Walsh says she had no idea this was coming.
"I personally feel just completely blind-sided and like the carpet was ripped out from under my family's feet," Walsh says. "My oldest son has been here for five years."
Chanthy says parents should have been given ample warning.
"Now, we've become victimized in this whole situation and what are we supposed to do with six weeks," he says.
Parents have six weeks to find a new preschool after spending a year or more to get into Clayton.
"It's even more dire for an infant to find care," Amber says. "It's a year to 18 months at any of these schools. I don't know what we're gonna do."
Brantley met with parents Thursday afternoon to discuss options.
"There had to have been signs," Walsh says. "There had to have been a dialogue. There had to be analysis and research and deliberation. I want to understand better why the decision was made, why we were intentionally kept in the dark for so long."
Brantley admits that she withheld the news to protect the functionality of Clayton Early Learning. If parents or staff knew about the closure months in advance, she says they probably would have left, leaving the program unstable.
"We were looking at the best interest of the children in making that decision," Brantley says while getting visibly upset. "It's very hard. It's very hard. I'm a parent, too. I've been there."
Now, the Na family is left wondering where they're going to send their kids to preschool.
"We're not millionaires here saying, great, we can just go hire a private nanny, no big deal," Amber says. "There is no solution."
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