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First Step Preschool school year cuts out early

On May 9, the First Step Preschool, part of the Black Forest Community United Church of Christ in Black Forest, unexpectedly closed its doors about two weeks before the last scheduled day of school.In an email statement to The New Falcon Herald, the churchís board of directors stated that resignations from four teachers prompted the abrupt closure.Parents of First Step Preschool students said the teachers resigned as a sign of solidarity with the preschool director, Geanina Brown, who was put on administrative leave, and subsequently terminated.Ambyr Kirkpatrick, a parent whose twins attended the preschool, said a rumor had been circling that the board had asked Brown to release personal information on the preschool students, including the parentsí contact information; and Brown asked the board to clarify why they were seeking the information. When the board refused to do so, Brown refused to give the board the information, Kirkpatrick said.When the parents heard what had happened, they asked the teachers if the rumor was true, and the teachers confirmed it, Kirkpatrick said.(The board would not field questions from the NFH and did not address the rumor in their email. Brown declined an interview as well.)Kirkpatrick said she received a phone call May 5, notifying her that the annual Motherís Day tea, scheduled for May 6 at the school, was canceled. However, the teachers worked together to hold the tea at a nearby park, instead, she said. ìThe kids were so excited for the tea, and they (the board) pulled this (canceling the event) the day before,î Kirkpatrick said. ìIt is really hard to explain to a 5-year-old kid that we cannot do the stuff that you have been planning.îAt the Motherís Day tea, Kirkpatrick said the teachers told the parents that Brown had been put on administrative leave, but the teachers would be standing in alliance with Brown. ìI said that the parents would stand behind you guys (the teachers), (and) not in support of the building or the church,î Kirkpatrick said.Gina Allen, whose son attended the preschool, said she was at the school on the morning of May 9, when the teachers turned in their letters of resignation. ìThe teachers basically said, ëWe do not want to be here without her (Brown),íî Allen said.The board held a parents meeting later that week, she said. ìThey kept saying that whatever had happened was deeply disturbing but would not say what was so dire that they had to shut the school down right then,î Allen said. ìWe got no answers, just random implications, but they said our kids were never in any danger.îBecause the school closed earlier than expected, Allen said the preschool students who were ìgraduatingî to kindergarten did not get to have their graduation ceremony, although she had personally paid for the material for the kidsí gowns. The parents had to organize and raise money to have a graduation ceremony at a separate location in Colorado Springs, instead of at the school, she said.Amber Osback-Bustoz said she had enrolled her daughter for the 2016-2017 school year, and had paid the $65 enrollment fee. ìI heard through Facebook about what was going on at the school and decided that I was not going to be a part of that,î she said.Osback-Bustoz said she requested a refund of the enrollment fee since her daughter never attended the school, but in an email exchange with Debbie Putney, the volunteer childrenís education director, she was told that the money was not refundable.ìI enrolled my daughter under the assumption that she would be with these teachers and this director,î Osback-Bustoz said. ìThey want my money for whatever reason because they keep saying it is non-refundable.îAdditionally, she said no one from the board or the preschool contacted her to tell her about the teachersí resignation or the change in directors. ìThey never reached out to inform the prospective, future students that it was under new faculty and staff,î Osback-Bustoz said. ìWe did not want her to go there for the building; and,when your parents walk out with the teachers, that says something about the teachers.îIn the email statement to the NFH, the board wrote, ìRecently, it has come to light that there may have been irregularities related to the preschool. The matter is under investigation. It would be premature to comment further at this time. The safety of the children has not been raised as a concern in the investigation.îìI kept thinking of the kids,î Kirkpatrick said. ìThis is so sad for my kids because they took away their last two weeks of the only friends and teachers they have known before they move on to another chapter of their lives. They took away memories. My 3-year-old was signed up to go next year, but I will not be going back.î

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