Better Call Behnken: After school program suddenly shuts down, leaving parents in the lurch

Extreme Youth Sports

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s one week before school starts and your after-school care plans could be in jeopardy. If they are, there’s a good chance you don’t even know it yet.

A Better Call Behnken investigation found dozens of facilities that were legitimate last year are now unlicensed and may have to shut down or make major changes to obtain proper licenses. This news comes after Extreme Youth Sports, located in Lutz and Westchase, announced to parents this week it is shutting down aftercare programs, effective Friday.

Parents are scrambling and fuming that they were not notified of new regulations by state or county government.

“I mean, I trust these people,” said Michelle Ventimiglia, who has two sons who attend Extreme. “I can have a great day at work and I can have an awful day of work and I come here and know my kids are taken care of. That’s all we want as parents.”

The owners of Extreme Youth Sports, Duane and Lauren Spires, say they weren’t notified either and found out by accident, after they requested routine paperwork from the county. For seven years, they have qualified for an exemption, meaning they don’t have to have a traditional childcare license. That is not the case anymore.

“It went from where we could have the kids for four hours a day for after school down to two,” Duane Spires said. “And the problem is that affects working families. Parents are at work. That’s why they need these types of programs.”

The Spires say there were unaware of a new state statute, approved in March. Under the statute, their business can no longer operate as it does now. The statute could impact after school programs that have never had to obtain a child care license before, such as dance studios and martial arts facilities.

The statute changed in March, but business owners were not notified and many, apparently, don’t know. With school starting next week, dozens of programs could be in jeopardy.

Andrea Chowning, of Hillsborough County Child Care Licensing, said these are state requirements to help keep children safe. She said the county did not tell Extreme they have to shut down, only that they have to obtain a license to continue to operate.

Extreme’s owners say that is not possible and that investigators for the county told them their current space does not meet bathroom requirements or have enough outdoor space. Any program located in a strip plaza, like many are, would fall into the same category.

Chowning said the county will not seek out these facilities and shut them down because they don’t have the resources to do that. But, as the county is made aware of programs in violation, they will take action, she said.

She advises business owners who question whether they need a license to call their local childcare licensing office.

“I would like to hope that anyone running an after school program would think of the children and contact our office and let us work through the process with them.”

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