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Ontario private school and storefront daycares operate in legal loophole

With its bright blue façade and prominent sign on Broadview Ave., Mini Bluebird Montessori looks like many of the licensed child-care centres in Toronto — with one major difference.

Bluebird operates in a legal loophole, allowing it to avoid dozens of rules that limit staff-child ratios, mandate play space, govern food preparation and require annual inspections.

In fact, it isn’t subject to any rules at all.

Bluebird operates under a grandfathered exception to Ontario’s Day Nurseries Act, the law that governs child care in the province.

Until 1993, preschool programs affiliated with private schools could exist without having to be licensed as a daycare. The government closed the loophole that year, but allowed existing programs to continue operating without a daycare licence.

Its lawyer says it’s a “school-based Montessori program,” not a daycare. Mini Bluebird Montessori operates as a registered campus of Angel Academy Montessori school, located more than 15 km away on Kingston Rd., near Eglinton Ave. This association allows Bluebird to operate under the pre-1993 exception.

Such private-school-operated daycares such as these operate with no limit on the number of children they can care for, no child-staff ratio rules, no first aid, CPR or early childhood training and no government inspections.

“Why are they exempt from licensing?” asked child-care expert Martha Friendly. “Why should an older school be able to operate without oversight, but a new one needs to get licensed?”

Other unregulated daycares — in homes and in storefronts — have the same free rein, except for a single rule: no more than five children under age 10.

Ontario has licensed daycare spots for only about one in five Ontario children under age 12. It means about 80 per cent of Ontario children whose mothers work or study are cared for in a patchwork of unregulated settings, including unlicensed private schools, storefronts and home child-care businesses.

As with all unregulated care, the government doesn’t know how many grandfathered private schools look after babies, toddlers and preschoolers without a licence.

Child-care advocates have been pushing for years to tighten up oversight and regulation, and hope the province will address some of these loopholes when it introduces legislative changes this fall.

Mini Bluebird Montessori cares for children as young as 12 months at its location on Broadview Ave., north of Danforth Ave.

“Montessori Schools and their associated teaching methodologies begin in infancy,” the school’s lawyer, Mark McMackin, wrote in a letter to the Star. All parents are made aware of the program’s “special status” on school registration forms and parent information brochures, he added.

The Mini Bluebird Montessori Google+ website identifies the business as a “Daycare Centre.” McMackin says the site was not set up by anyone at the school.

But this can be confusing for parents. Friendly points out other provinces, such as Nova Scotia, have banned unlicensed daycares from describing themselves as child-care centres, because it deceives the public into believing they are licensed and inspected.

McMackin would not disclose the number of children in care, nor the number of staff and whether they had CPR qualifications or background checks.

Ministry of Education inspection reports obtained through a Freedom of Information request, however, reveal an inspector found 23 children, all under age 3, in the program in February.

The inspector was acting on a complaint that there were too many children, not enough adults, diapers not being changed regularly and parents not being allowed to visit after 11:30 a.m.

The inspector found no evidence of mistreatment and concluded the Mini Bluebird was allowed to operate without a licence because of its affiliation with Angel Montessori. However, she notified Toronto Fire Services to follow up on a previous complaint about fire safety.

Child-care operations use a number of different names, like “preschool” or “nursery school,” but they’re all considered daycares under the law, unless they fall under the 1993 private-school loophole, according to Ministry of Education spokesperson Lauren Ramey.

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By: Marco Chown Oved Staff Reporter, Published on Sat Nov 30 2013

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"Over the past five years, both of our children attended Westbrook Montessori Academy. Our son started out as a shy three-year-old and graduated as a confident, outgoing child eager to enter elementary school. Now in Grade 3, he works independently and solves problems based on the skills taught and practiced at Westbrook. He is also successful with group work, understands the concept of sharing and truly enjoys being in the classroom. 

Our daughter, also an introvert, flourished in an environment where she could appreciate the balance of a structured classroom environment complemented with unstructured play time. The teachers saw her knack of helping others and encouraged her by providing informal mentoring opportunities for her younger classmates. The Montessori experience has definitely prepared her academically as well as socially for her entrance into Grade 1 next year. 

Westbrook Montessori Academy helped lay a foundation for our two children that they will carry throughout their lives. The owner of the school, Riz Ratanshi, and his entire staff truly care about the well-being of the children. They understand how every child is unique in how they learn and the speed with which they process information. The atmosphere is extremely supportive and nurturing while instilling the core concepts of the Montessori philosophy. 

We will truly miss Riz and the teachers now that our children have moved on. We were privileged to be part of the Westbrook community and will always be grateful to the school for the groundwork that it provided for our children. We have and will continue to recommend Westbrook to anyone looking for an enriching experience for their kids. Thank you Westbrook for the wonderful memories."

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Westbrook Montessori Academy
7227 Copenhagen Road
Mississauga, Ontario L5N 2C6, Canada
Phone :  (905) 826-4648