By Tim Whyte
My memories of Town and Country Farm School are a little fuzzy. It was one of several places we tried for our first born, when he was just a little guy.
This was about 20 years ago. It had, at the time, a positive reputation as a longstanding local mom-and-pop preschool and daycare. Set in bucolic Placerita Canyon, with farm animals as an integral part of the setting and the curriculum, there was, on the face of it, a lot to like.
This was no McPreschool — it had character and seemed like a place that would provide the little ones with a unique learning environment.
Finding a good day care and preschool can be a challenge, and parents of course put a lot of thought into the decision.
Needing a place for our boy to go while my wife and I were off at the daily rat races, Town and Country was one of the frontrunners and, after a preliminary visit, we decided to give it a whirl.
It ended up not being a very good fit for our kid and our commutes — I don’t recall the details, but the impression I have in my memory is that our son just wasn’t as excited to be there as we thought he would be. Maybe farm animals aren’t as big of a draw as we thought? I don’t know.
In any case, a short time later, we switched preschools. Our son ended up at Sunshine, another locally founded preschool that has grown and now has multiple locations. It was more his speed, and he had a good experience there.
I never gave Town and Country much additional thought after that, until the past few weeks, when we started carrying news stories about the demise of Town and Country Farm School.
The preschool and day care abruptly closed down on March 8 after four decades of operation, leaving employees and families in the lurch.
We don’t know all of the behind-the-scenes factors that constitute the “why” behind the shutdown, but we do know who’s left holding the bag for it: The employees, and the families who relied on Town and Country to provide a safe place for their children to learn and grow.
Any parent can vouch: If you find out on a Friday that you have no child care effective the following Monday, there’s a good chance you’re going to be missing work while you scramble to find a suitable new child care option.
It appears there were some warning signs. In the months leading up to the closure, Department of Social Services inspectors found the preschool to be out of compliance with state regulations, including requirements for a maximum teacher-pupil ratio of 6:1.
Further, officials with the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that uncleared adults were left in charge of children. State officials also noted that there were “infant, preschool and school-aged children being commingled” within the same classroom —also a no-no.
Then there’s that nagging little issue of paying one’s employees.
Town and Country staff members are telling us their now-former employer skipped out on their final paychecks. As of this past Wednesday, they still had not been paid — and one of them, Ariel Plascencia, told The Signal that she’s owed for approximately 35 hours of work.
Imagine that. You show up for work on a Friday to be told your employer is closing down and you are suddenly out of work — and then you don’t get your final paycheck.
There’s a procedure they will need to follow, starting with a wage claim to be filed with the state Labor Commissioner’s Office. The employer can face penalties, up to the employees’ daily wages multiplied by 30 days.
That all sounds well and good, but of course you can imagine how long it may take for the employees to get it resolved — and even in a victorious labor claim, is it possible the school literally will not have the money to pay them?
Through all of this, mum has been the word from the owners, who have not responded to our reporter’s requests for comment.
It’s a sad, ignominious ending for a preschool that had been a community fixture for decades. And the saga isn’t over yet: Expect more of the “behind-the-scenes” details to play out in court.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays. On Twitter: @TimWhyte.