(Photo: Flickr@familymwr)

(Photo: Flickr@familymwr)

Surrey charity sues school district over daycare program for teen parents

Options Community Services disputes the validity of a termination notice sent by the Surrey School District

A local charity is suing the Surrey School District after being dropped as sole operator of a daycare program for teen parents.

The Surrey School District has served Options Community Services with notice it must vacate the facility at Guildford Park Secondary by Aug. 31, 2019, but the Surrey charity claims it has a right to stay for an additional year.

In a Notice of Civil Claim filed against the Surrey School District on Tuesday (July 9), Options disputes the validity of the termination notice.

“The School District failed to provide Options with reasonable notice that it was terminating Options’ licence of occupation,” the claim states.

Further, Options states the district “failed to act in good faith in its purported termination of Options’ licence of occupation.”

Scroll down to read the complete court filing.

In its claim, Options seeks an injunction restraining the school district from acting on its Notice of Termination, and an injunction requiring the school district to “cease use of the name ‘Growing Together’ in connection with child care services and support services for expectant and young parents.”

Having to leave by the end of this August, Options states, “would harm Options, Options’ employees, the young parents and community parents who Options serves, and their children.”

Options also seeks a “declaration” that it has a contractual license to to use and occupy the premises in addition to seeking general, special and punitive damages and other costs.

READ ALSO: Surrey charity in ‘shock’ after district drops it from daycare program for teen parents

Options has operated the Growing Together program based out of Guildford Park Secondary in partnership with the district for the past 33 years.

The Surrey school district’s website describes Growing Together as a “district support program and daycare for students who are attending school and are expecting or are who are young mothers.”

Last week, Janice Boyle, director of development for Options Community Services, told the Now-Leader that the charity was in “absolute shock” when it received word it was being told to vacate the premises. She said it was “out of left field” and that the organization has been “working hard to try to talk to the school board to, as of yet, no success.”

Surrey school district spokesman Doug Strachan told the Now-Leader last week the district “went to tender and will have a new daycare operator to manage that part of the program.”

At the time, Strachan said the district feels it’s “time to refresh our Growing Together program and refocus it again on our students, as well as explore other partnerships that can enhance the program.”

On Wednesday, Strachan said the district is “aware of the claim and as the matter is now before the court, our response will come through the court process.”

According to Options’ Notice of Civic Claim, tensions rose between the two parties when the program’s enrolment began to drop in 2017. That year, the charity laid off two staff and began to enrol some families from the community to prevent further layoffs.

That September, Options says the district reduced its days of operation from five to four, resulting in enrolment dropping further.

In the lawsuit, Options claims there was further tension over the charity being selected as one of the “Universal Child Care Prototype Sites” by the provincial government, involving a $10-a-day child care pilot program.

Options states it learned it had been awarded the contract, but that it couldn’t inform the district due to a non-disclosure agreement that was in place until Premier John Horgan made the announcement in December of 2018.

The school district later “expressed concern about being embarrassed that the senior administrators at the School District were not aware of the prototype funding until so late,” Options alleges, adding that at one point, the district accused the charity of being in breach of its 2018-19 School District Funding Agreement.

Since then, Options states it has “repeatedly tried to work with the School District to address its concerns, but the School District has refused to engage in any meaningful dialogue.”

Options claims that on April 30, it was advised that the school district did not intend to renew its annual funding Agreement that expires at the end of August. A letter was then delivered to Options stating the district would be “terminating Options’ month-to-month tenancy at Guildford Park Secondary School,” effective Aug. 31, 2019 and “demands vacant possession” of the premises that same day.

Options says the school district’s position that Options has a “month-to-month lease is wholly inconsistent with the relationship” they have had in having “successfully operated Growing Together for decades.”

“The nature of the services that Options provides to the young parents and their children is also inconsistent with a month-to-month tenancy,” the claim states, noting the program operates on an annual basis.

In its claim, Options also details funds it says it has raised to pay for a former portable the facility operated out of and the current modular building in which it operates out of today.

Options claims it fundraised to the tune of $85,000 to pay for one portable and that the charity owned it until 1994.

The current 4,200-square-foot modular facility has three playrooms, three nap rooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen and a fenced-off yard with a playground. Provincial funding of $470,000 was secured through a joint application in 1994, Options states.

Options also claims it paid for $20,000 in “major upgrades” including deck repairs, new appliances and new blinds, as well as $21,650 for the installation of the outdoor playground.

And since the program’s inception in 1986, Options says it has raised more than $10 million for the daycare and wrap-around services.

Annually, the charity states it spends roughly $600,000 to operate Growing Together but that’s expected to rise to $760,000 in 2019-20 as it was selected as one of the child-care prototypes sites by the provincial government.

The prototype funding is a “major advantage,” according to Options, because it “does not depend on actual enrolment numbers” which offers “increased certainty to Options’ operation of the daycare.”

Since its inception, Options says the program has supported more than 1,500 young parents.

As of June 2019, eight of the 12 young parents in Growing Together have an active open file with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Each year, 50 per cent of the young parents are Indigenous youth, according to the Notice of Civil Claim.

A hearing is scheduled in August.