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Yongsan preschool to close at end of school year

SEOUL — A long-running Christian preschool at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan will close at the end of the school year due to deficiencies found during a recent audit.

However, the Mustard Seed Preschool will be allowed to remain open until May 23, easing the immediate concerns of parents who feared they would soon be scrambling to find day care for their children.

“I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault that the school is closing,” said parent Rachael Fillebrown, who was among about 60 adults at a meeting Wednesday evening about the future of Mustard Seed, which opened in 1976 and is attended by 93 students. She was “happy and relieved” that the preschool would remain open another four months.

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An anonymous complaint triggered the Installation Management Command Pacific Region to conduct an audit of Mustard Seed last fall that found nine areas where the program was not in compliance with U.S. Army regulations. At least seven are not correctable, meaning the program has to be shut down, garrison commander Col. Michael Masley said.

He said he could not detail the deficiencies because the IMCOM-Pacific investigation report has not been completed, but that the children’s safety is not at risk. He said the lack of a charter for Mustard Seed was one problem identified by military officials, though it was unclear if it was among the deficiencies found by IMCOM-Pacific.

Yongsan spokesman Mark Abueg said the investigation report and the complaint that initiated it will be released after the report is finalized.

Masley said parents of Mustard Seed students have several options after the preschool closes, including Yongsan’s Child Development Center, off-post child care or home-based care.

It appeared Wednesday that the CDC would be able to absorb much of the preschool’s enrollment.

Masley said parents also could consider starting a private organization to run a new preschool that adheres to Army regulations. The garrison would help with the legalities of setting up the organization but would not be involved in setting up or administering a new preschool, he said.

More than 70 private organizations exist at Yongsan, overseeing everything from Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops to fraternities, sororities and a second-hand store.

But setting up a new school could be challenging, with the garrison already crowded. Mustard Seed operates out of several classrooms in the South Post Chapel, but Army regulations will not allow a similar day care to open there, a military attorney said Wednesday.

If space could be found, one parent asked whether things such as adult-sized toilets would violate government regulations for child care facilities.

The garrison announced last week that Mustard Seed might close due to concerns that it had been operating illegally since it opened. It also placed Child, Youth and School Services workers in the preschool’s classrooms to act as a “second set of eyes” because an unspecified number of employees have not undergone military-mandated background checks.

No employees are suspected of wrongdoing, Masley said, and all have undergone local background checks. The program is funded only by fees paid by parents, not by taxpayer money.

Parents said Wednesday they worried they would not get the same quality of education for their children once Mustard Seed closes.

Susan Buckley said she is thinking about returning to the United States a year early so her daughter can attend preschool there instead of Yongsan’s CDC. That would mean leaving her husband behind to finish his tour in South Korea. She said that at Mustard Seed, her daughter is “exposed to a lot of things that she wouldn’t get” at another facility.

rowlanda@pstripes.osd.mil

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