Every Child Early Learning Center fighting for second chance at denied permit

Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 7:40 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2023 at 8:13 AM EDT
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LURAY, Va. (WHSV) - Every Child Early Learning Center was ready to go for a new school year at St. Mark Lutheran Church. The church had St Mark’s Preschool and daycare in operation for 30 years that closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All it needed was a special use permit but was denied because it doesn’t have a parking lot for administrators and teachers. After being denied the permit, one of the daycare’s owners, Jenna Smith, is feeling confused and frustrated.

“We have worked through all the requirements that the town, the county, health department, department of education requires. Everything by any means by any other center would meet the standards, for us, did not,” Smith said.

Smith stressed that the need for this daycare is mainly from the parents and how other businesses have the same issues with parking and visibility but received their special use permit.

Luray Town Council voted to deny the special use permit request on Aug. 14. Luray’s Town Manager, Steve Burke, mentioned that the lack of on-site parking opened the door for concerns about the kids’ safety.

“Those were the issues that council did identify were the outside traffic and pack the access issues with regard to children’s safety, potential traffic backing up from drop-off points onto both N. Deford Ave. and E. Main St., which is our main road through town,” Burke said.

The daycare was hoping to be open for families who feel their kids do not have a place that meets their needs and a space to be themselves. The goal for the early learning center is to have a specialized and inclusive learning environment for all children, including behavioral issues, at a 5:1 max ratio in the classroom. With a school age ratio of only 4:1.

“All staff pass background checks. All staff have required training that they are required. All staff have CPR and first aid training before they even start in the center so that there is no concern that parents can have. They can ask me all the questions upfront. I can show them all the qualifications and training that the staff have, and they can feel comfortable enrolling their children,” Smith said.

Teachers are willing to walk with the kids back and forth to assure safety in pick-ups and drop-offs. New Directions Community Church offered full use of its parking lot but Burke said that would not suffice for the long run with inclement weather days.

“It is a requirement of town code for any application for a special use permit with a child care facility to have on-site parking for all administration and teachers,” Burke said.

Burke confirmed that the town council’s role is to consider the zoning of any application, which means they focus solely on the outside and what happens on the inside is irrelevant to their decision.

“We provide lower ratios in order to provide the specialized care that these children need as well as bringing outside sources, such as the speech and language center he’s coming in every Friday to provide speech therapy and occupational therapy for children in the center and for in the community,” Smith said.

Smith said this is just one small thing she can do for all kids with special needs —giving them a chance at having additional tools and resources as they age.

Every Child Early Learning Center may be new but knows the last daycare onsite for thirty years never had to have a permit like this until now. Staff is just wanting to continue the excellence seen before the closing.

Officials confirmed that Luray Town Council’s decision has nothing against the daycare center, but just trying to make sure everyone is following the codes in the business district. Burke clarified that other businesses on Main Street fall under other requirements for the special use permit for because they are deemed by-right properties with parking on the street and behind their property.

Jenna Smith is also director of Every Child Early Learning Center who explained that she submitted written permission to Steve Burke from New Direction’s pastor, permitting them to use their lot any time for staff needs before the meeting. Her measurements estimate the parking lot space is approximately 528 feet away from the daycare’s location within the 1200 feet the town requires.

Burke says the daycare is more than welcome to apply again. The early learning center have all the intention to reapply.