Angry parents met yesterday with state officials to try to convince them to reopen a popular West Friendship day care center that was closed July 8 because it doesn't have a license.
"I really don't want my kids anywhere else," said Lisa Chapman, who took her two children from Largo to Aunt Linda's GREATDAY Care on East Ivory Road before she went to work in Greenbelt. "I go completely out of my way to get my kids to Linda."
"The bottom line is that we all broke the law and we know it. But it's the way she had taken care of the kids," said Marcia Bardarik, of Ellicott City.
Many parents have taken time from work to care for their children, or are taking the youngsters to work with them, Ms. Bardarik said.
State child care investigators ordered Linda Heigh, owner of the center, to close until she earns her license by completing 12 hours of course work and ensuring that her home conforms to the state fire code. Ms. Heigh could be fined up to $1,000 a day if she reopens the business before she gets her license.
Patricia Jennings, deputy executive director of the child care administration, said yesterday she would review Ms. Heigh's circumstances, but was unsure whether she would be able to reopen.
Ms. Heigh, who has operated the center for 12 years with her sister, Michele Cottman, is asking to be allowed to reopen while she obtains her license.
"All I'm asking is that I be allowed to operate while I do what they ask me to do," Ms. Heigh said. "If I have to do it free while I sort out my stuff, I will."
She said she is to start her courses today.
It takes an average of about six months to earn a license, Ms. Jennings said. Sometimes a license applicant can earn a license in as few as three months.
Ms. Heigh and Ms. Cottman have cared for as many as 19 children -- including six of Ms. Heigh's at the white, wooden two-story house on an 18-acre tract that her family owns off Route 32.
Yesterday, she admitted that she had heard about becoming licensed, but she said that she did not know the law required it.
"I think it's ludicrous; a license doesn't mean diddly squat," Ms. Heigh said. "I always thought I was doing a community service. I just love what I do."
"She has known for years that she has to register," said Helen Szablya, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources. "She chose not to register. The law is the law."
Someone informed child care investigators that Ms. Heigh operated without a license, Ms. Szablya said.
On average, the Child Care Administration receives more than 1,100 complaints of unlicensed day care centers each fiscal year, Ms. Jennings said. Usually, the administration does not hear a second complaint about the same business.
Inspectors were concerned that a swimming pool sits 200 feet to 300 feet from Ms. Heigh's house and that she needs more smoke detectors.
Ms. Heigh uses nearly all the first floor of the five-bedroom house for the day care center, including a playroom with a television, computer and building blocks and a room for reading and playing games.
Ms. Heigh said she believes the setting is conducive to day care operation, but Ms. Jennings insisted the "Child Care Administration is committed to licensing [Ms. Heigh], providing Linda meets the letter of the law."