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5/27/97 Midwestern day care ends service to non-seminarians

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary recently announced it will limit services of its Child Development Center to children of students, faculty and staff at the Kansas City, Mo., campus.
Non-seminary parents, whose children made up two-thirds of the CDC’s 90-student enrollment, must find other options for child care by the end of May. Mary Canham, among parents for whom the decision was not popular, said she was told by Midwestern President Mark Coppenger, “If I really wanted Christian child care I should stay home.”
Coppenger said he mentioned staying home as an option. “The context was, she was saying that we were showing insensitivity to the needs of the kids, and I was suggesting that perhaps kids needed a stay-at-home parent in some cases.”
The main reason for the change, Coppenger said, is that offering the service does not fall under the seminary’s mission. “I have no doubt that we did some good work with this, but we are asking in every case, what does this have to do with our founding purpose?”
Parents learned of the new policy in an April 29 letter from Gary Ledbetter, the seminary’s vice president for student development. Citing financial needs, the condition of the building and safety problems that needed immediate correction, Ledbetter concluded, “The only way we can see to continue involves some drastic redesign of our programs.”
The letter followed an April 17 memo from Ledbetter to parents announcing the resignation of CDC director Larry Smith and the appointment of Suzy Armstrong as his replacement. That memo stated, “Our current schedule, staffing and procedures continue as before. … for now, our services will be unchanged.” The seminary declined to give a reason for Smith’s resignation, citing personnel policy.
Ledbetter concluded the April 17 memo by inviting parents to join him in welcoming Armstrong and thanking them for their support of the seminary’s day-care center.
Janet Braud, whose 4-year-old son and 8-month-old daughter were in the CDC, said she and other parents were unhappy with the seminary’s handling of the matter.
“Midwestern’s administration has put parents of many, many children in a tailspin to locate quality child care,” she said. “We feel this situation has been handled less than professionally with the parents, as well as the teachers, and are shocked about the lack of compassion and empathy toward parents, children and teachers.”
Ledbetter told the Missouri Baptist newsjournal Word & Way the primary reason for the change was to be able to offer a broader range of services to the seminary community. If the seminary wanted to offer an early childhood education program or a “mothers’ day out” service, he said, it could not do so without reducing the number of children in day care.
The CDC must meet state fire safety and health requirements, Ledbetter noted. He said he was told by a state inspector that expanding the capacity beyond 99 children would put the center under more stringent requirements.
Ledbetter predicted usage of the CDC by seminary families will increase from the current 30 children “when we offer ministries that they need.” A survey has been distributed to seminary families to determine their child-care needs.
Some non-seminary parents think the change reflects a belief that mothers should be staying home with their young children rather than holding down jobs.
“I’ve not said anything resembling that to any parents,” Ledbetter responded. “We’d get out of the day-care business altogether if we held those convictions.”
Canham and her husband, Marc, took the step of sending letters to all Midwestern trustees and encouraging other affected parents to do the same.
Mary Canham, who works in the accounting department of Trans World Airlines, wrote, “Being a stay-home-mom is not always an option. “However, that is what Mr. Mark Coppenger recommended to me if I wanted to have quality Christian child care, on a full-time basis.
“Why then will the CDC reopen June 30? According to his philosophy, women should stay home and care for their own children. Wouldn’t that include wives of seminary students as well as community mothers, or is there a different standard for seminary students?”
Coppenger pointed to the financial bind many seminary students find themselves in. “We’re trying to bend over backwards to relieve those pressures — pressures not shared by all those who are using our day care now.”
He noted two national news magazines published cover stories in May that raised questions about placing children in day care. “Our chief rationale was not to repudiate day care, but the concerns in those magazine cover stories should give us pause.”
The articles appeared in the May 12 issues of Newsweek, “The Myth of Quality Time: How We’re Cheating Our Kids; What You Can Do,” and U.S. News & World Report, “The Lies Parents Tell About Work, Kids, Money, Day Care, and Ambition.”
Canham’s 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter both started in the CDC at 6 weeks of age. She said it has been “a wonderful experience” for her family. Her children developed close friendships and learned about the Bible and prayer.
Canham said her daughter came home from the new day-care center she attends and asked, “Why don’t they say a prayer before meals?” Marc Canham, an engineer for Sprint, estimated he had provided names and addresses of trustees to 15 to 18 other interested parents. In his letter to trustees, he questioned Ledbetter’s citing of financial reasons for the closing, noting the family’s fees recently had been lowered by $20 a week.
As of May 19, the Canhams had not heard back from any trustees. In an article in the Kansas City Star May 7, another parent, North Kansas City lawyer Sue Noland, was quoted as saying of the CDC’s closing to the public, “It was like a real family over there. For all of the children and parents it’s like a death in the family.”
Mary Canham emphasized she did not question the seminary’s right to close the CDC to the public. “I am not on a crusade to keep the CDC open for community families,” she wrote to trustees.
She took exception to what she considered short notice. “A month’s notice might sound like a reasonable time, but we are dealing with children’s delicate feelings.”
Parents also have had to contend with a shortage of area day-care providers who can take new children. The Star article said a nearby child-care provider had 173 children on its waiting list.
Ledbetter told the Star the CDC was losing tens of thousands of dollars a year. “We really are here to train men and women for the ministry,” he said in the article. “That has to be job number one over trying to provide a convenience for Northland families.”
Despite the administration’s reservations about day care, Coppenger in a letter to the Canhams noted seminarian spouses often work because “most of our ‘breadwinners’ are in a very poor position to win much bread” during their ministerial studies.
With a program to lessen their child-care costs, Coppenger noted: “… if our students can leave here unencumbered by debt, then they are in a much better position to move into lean missions positions upon graduation. The Southern Baptist Convention founded this seminary to produce immediately effectual ministers, and this care makes their post- graduation mobility more feasible.”

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  • Tim Palmer