Catching parents off-guard, the town’s Parks & Recreation department shutters its early education program with little warning, save for a late afternoon email.

Late Monday afternoon, emails were sent from Steve Pierce, director of Wilton’s Parks and Recreation department to parents of children enrolled in Miss Sharon’s “On School Road” preschool program telling them that the department’s early education classes and programs were no longer being offered. The email left families–whose 2-, 3- and 4-year-old children were due to begin attending classes there next week–surprised and suddenly without available preschool and childcare options.

The email to parents from Pierce read in part:

“For many years, the Parks and Recreation Department has offered a number of important service programs at the Comstock Community Center.  One of these programs provided creative pre-school activities for 2, 3 and 4 year olds.  Regrettably, I am writing to advise that this program cannot be offered again this fall for the following reasons.

“The Comstock Center is in need of facility improvements and various maintenance.  At the moment, there are contractors replacing the roof, which often leaks during rain events.  Other scheduled improvements will interfere with the town’s ability to provide a safe environment for the ‘On the School Road’ toddler programs.

“In addition, the State Department of Public Health recently required the Town of Wilton to cease operating the currently formatted toddler programs, which can only be offered by a licensed child care center.  The Town is not licensed to run a child care facility. Town officials have been attempting to determine if scaled down versions of some of the current programs will be permissible and if so, whether there is a market for shorter, more concentrated programs.  Even if shorter programs would be acceptable to the State, this option could not be implemented in time to open as originally planned.”

Jennifer Ciannella, whose 2-year-old son, Ryan, was registered in the program and supposed to start next week, said the news came without warning. “I had no idea. He was in the summer program, and I knew they were having issues with the roof leaking, but they never made it seem like it was a big issue, where the classes would be cancelled. When I first got the email, I thought it was just after school activities, but then I re-read it and realized he doesn’t have a preschool now.”

Now dozens of Wilton families will find themselves in the same situation. Many area preschool and early childhood education facilities have stopped accepting registrations as their available spots are completely filled. It’s leaving them very frustrated. One such parent, Jennifer Jacobs, expressed her feelings in a message to GMW, saying there was very little warning ahead of time:

“[There was] no other contact from Sharon or the Parks and Rec, just today’s bombshell email. I saw Sharon at her Cool Tots camp program in the beginning of August when my daughter attended. All seemed well. My daughter loved her.  I’m very, very disappointed this was sent one week before school starts. We just moved from Charlotte, NC and this program was highly recommended. I was thrilled it was very affordable, a big plus in this area. So now I’m left scrambling trying to find something with an opening for a 4-year-[old] and I’m sure other parents are in the same boat.”

Jacobs added, “I had no idea the school wasn’t licensed. It never occurred to me to check since so many [other] moms recommend it to me. Plus it was run out of the town’s Parks and Rec deptartment. I figured they’d have all their ducks in a row.”

GOOD Morning Wilton called and emailed both Pierce and “On School Road” director Sharon Cowley late Monday afternoon shortly after Parks and Rec sent out the cancellation email. Neither had responded by press time.

Cowley, affectionately known as “Miss Sharon,” is much beloved in the Wilton community. According to the “About Us” page of the program’s website:

On School Road is Parks and Rec’s answer to the community need for affordable, creative, exciting early childhood programming.  Starting in 2004, Sharon Cowley came to Parks and Rec to offer art classes for children and adults.  As the community need grew for more diverse programming to augment children’s preschool experiences, On School Road blossomed.  Today Sharon brings 16 years of teaching experience to Parks and Rec, and together with 12 other teachers runs an energetic, collaborative, imaginative program here at Comstock Community Center.”

The cancellation email from Pierce notes that Parks and Recreation personnel will assist families with refunds, stating, “This disappointing turn of events is regrettable, but obligatory.”

Ciannella, whose older daughter went to preschool at the Wilton Y, is hopeful there will be a place there too for her son, even though it’s very last minute. It’s likely many disappointed families will be scrambling to make other arrangements for their young chidlren. “I liked Sharon’s flexibility–I could send him one day or five days, and choose which days I wanted to send him. That worked best for me. Now I’m going to email the Y director. Hopefully they still have room in their twos program.”