[Editor's note: This is an updated and expanded version of an earlier article we wrote. You can find the previous version here.]
In early September, having recently lost their decades-long contract to run an afterschool program at PS/IS 217, the Roosevelt Island Youth Program began a new afterschool program at the Youth Center, located at 506 Main Street. The program promised violin and piano classes, sports and computer programming, all free.
On October 3, however, the group was told to “immediately cease and desist operations,” by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). According to Craig Smith, assistant director for public information at the agency, the group had been operating the program without a license.
Charlie Defino, executive director for the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP), acknowledged to The WIRE that his group did not yet have the appropriate license (known as a School-age Child Care, or SACC, license) but said they were in the process of “transferring” it from their previous location at PS/IS 217, and that the application was “pending.”
According to OCFS, however, licenses cannot be transferred between locations, and, as of press time, no application for a SACC license had been submitted for the 506 Main Street location.
The Youth Center at 506 Main Street is operated by the Roosevelt Island Youth Program through an agreement with RIOC.
An SACC license is required by the State for any program or facility, which is not a residence, that provides childcare to seven or more school-age children under 13 years of age outside normal school hours.
Programs that operate solely for one purpose, for example, to provide religious education, sports, music, or general recreation, are not required to have a SACC license.
The licensing process, which includes a building inspection, ensures that facilities and staffing levels meet appropriate standards. When an existing program changes location, it is required to submit a new application for registration.
According to multiple sources familiar with the process, getting a new license for a non-school location can take months.
Defino has offered varying accounts of the program’s current status. In an email he provided to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation and said was sent to parents on October 1, RIYP said that the program had a SACC license, but simply needed to transfer it from 645 Main Street, where they used to run a Beacon afterschool program, to the new location. “Charlie has filed the appropriate paperwork to have this changed and expedited,” it states.
Yet, as of press time, RIYP still had not submitted an application for the license. And while the letter provided to RIOC suggests it was sent to parents on Sunday October 1 informing them about the licensing problem, a parent told The WIRE they had not recieved it until the following Friday evening after an article about the problem appeared at mainstreetwire.com.
RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug said, “I am told by OCFS that RIYP has requested an application and that, as soon as staff background clearances are done, the application will be sent to RIYP. So, in short, the ball is in motion but they have been unable to receive the application and submit it yet.”
Flug also made clear that the application process is long. “It’s a lengthy application, and it will take time for review and approval,” she said.
While it waits for an SACC license, RIYP has been allowed to keep operating with a scaled-back program offering only recreational activities.
For years, RIYP ran a Beacon afterschool program out of the Island’s public school, PS/IS 217, through a contract with the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) that Defino fought for and brought to the Island.
That contract expired in August and was taken over by The Child Center of NY. (The Child Center of NY is also waiting for their SACC license, and has been running a recreational program in the meantime. They expect their license within the next two weeks.) In response, RIYP began a new afterschool program out of the Youth Center, which it operates through a contract and funding by RIOC. Since early September, RIYP has been picking up students from PS/IS 217 and taking them to the Youth Center for a variety of activities until pick-up at 6:00 p.m.
RIOC President Susan Rosenthal says the Corporation was not aware of the three OCFS visits to the Youth Center prior to the Cease-and-Desist order, or that RIYP was operating without a license until the afternoon of October 5.
Flug said RIOC had not required proof of an SACC license before the program began. “RIOC has never asked for licenses, as RIOC did not provide oversight until recently. The current agreement with RIYP and RIOC requires compliance with all State and federal laws.”
The hands-off relationship contradicts promises RIOC itself made earlier this year.
During a discussion at a February RIOC Board meeting to extend grant funds to RIYP for six months, Sean Singh, grant writer for RIOC, told the Board that, in consideration of the funding, “We will be increasing the controls over the operator...including information regarding attendance, programming, staffing, as well as [requiring] a six-month budget of all necessary funds. And we will do drop-ins.”
At the meeting, Rosenthal stated that she, along with RIOC CFO Kimberly Quinones, Singh, and Flug, had met with Defino and RIYP treasurer Steven Kaufman to discuss the terms of the extension. She said that RIYP was receptive to RIOC’s “monitoring in a different way than we have in the past,” and that they were in “complete agreement.”
Rosenthal said that RIOC was “pleased to move forward along those lines.”
Filling Beacon’s Gaps
The licensing problem comes as RIYP is hoping to renew its contract with RIOC to operate the Youth Center for three years, and after the RIOC board voted to give them additional funding through December 31 of this year.
This will be RIOC’s second attempt to decide on an operator. A first request for proposals last year resulted in a tie between two applicants, RIYP and Island Kids, and the entire process was scrapped at the last minute.
In response, RIOC has since revised the scope of the operator contract, in consultation with OCFS, which would also serve to rate it, along with Patricia Pell, the interim director of the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery.
According to Rosenthal, RIOC’s intent was never to have two free afterschool programs. In fact, one of the reasons RIOC opted to write a new RFP for the Youth Center operator, she explained at the February Board meeting, was to ensure they weren’t duplicating services already offered by the Beacon program at PS/IS 217. “We don’t want a duplication of services,” she said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
As to her vision of what RIOC’s youth program should be doing, she said, “We may want to start some of our services when the Beacon program ends or try to coordinate the program so we can fill the Beacon program’s gaps.” Rosenthal said she had discussed the issue after consultation with PS/IS 217 principal Mandana Beckman. “Our sole interest is to have the best operator for our community,” she said.
According to the guidelines for the new application, the future Youth Center operator will not offer an afterschool program, but will instead be expected to provide drop-in programming. The RFP states: “RIOC envisions a drop-in program with a menu of diverse program offerings that participants can pick and choose at will, without committing to regular program attendance. As such, the operator will not need to be registered as a school-aged child-care provider in accordance with NYS Office of Children and Family Service regulations when serving children ages 5 through 12.”
This means that even if RIYP gets an SACC license and wins the Youth Center operator grant, they would not be able to run an afterschool program like the one it has been promoting.
In the Meantime
“RIOC will make sure that the operations at the Youth Center comply with the law,” Rosenthal wrote in an email last week.
According to RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug, the program is currently allowed to continue operating as a “drop-in program.”
Practically speaking, under its current license, RIYP cannot offer a variety of activities to children on a daily basis, nor can they offer activities from different categories sequentially – six weeks of art followed by six weeks of recreation followed by six weeks of academic instruction, for example. They also cannot offer a program that provides activities from different categories rotationally where children receive art instruction Mondays and Wednesdays, engage in recreational activity on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Flug says she was told by Defino that RIYP has been in compliance with these rules since the cease-and-desist order on October 3.
She also says the lack of a license does not mean the space is unsafe. “The change in classification should not cause parents to fear that it’s an unsafe place for children.”