State child care investigators yesterday told the owner of a popular West Friendship day care center that she will have to keep the center closed until she earns a state license.
That decision comes just a week after angry parents met with state officials to try to persuade them to reopen Aunt Linda's GREATDAY Care, which investigators closed July 8 for operating without a license.
The center's owner, Linda Heigh, is completing requirements to earn her license and said she would not fight the state for amnesty, which would allow her to operate the center while she fulfills licensing requirements.
"If the parents wish to, then they may," Ms. Heigh said yesterday. "But I'm not."
Ms. Heigh has operated the center for 12 years with her sister, Michele Cottman. The two have cared for as many as 19 children at one time -- including six of Ms. Heigh's -- at the white wooden two-story house on an 18-acre tract that Ms. Heigh's family owns off Route 32.
Inspectors were concerned that a swimming pool is 200 to 300 feet from Ms. Heigh's house, that she needed more smoke detectors and that she does not meet state regulations for the number of children at the center.
Ms. Heigh could be fined up to $1,000 a day if she reopens the business before she gets her license.
The state Child Care Administration reviewed a petition from parents in support of Ms. Heigh, but could find no provision in the law that would allow extending amnesty to her.
"We want people to be licensed," said Linda West, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources. "That does not end her options. We're still working with her."
Child Care Administration workers said that because of the popularity of the center they would continue to monitor Mrs. Heigh's progress to ensure that she gets adequate help to reopen it.
"We did assign someone to her particular case," said Patricia Jennings, deputy director of the Child Care Administration. "I wanted to make sure she was moving through the process. I'm comfortable, and she seems to be comfortable."
Parents of children who attend the center said it should continue to operate while Mrs. Heigh pursues her license because she provides quality care for their children.
Last week, more than a dozen parents met with state officials, urging them to reopen the center. The parents' support impressed the state officials who, for a week, considered reopening the facility.
Some parents said they had been forced to take off from work or take their children with them to their jobs since the center losed. They are considering their next move to try to persuade the state to reopen the center.
"I have to talk to some of the other parents," said Marcia Bardarik, an Ellicott City resident who uses Ms. Heigh's services. "I guess this means another trip down to the Department of Human Resources."