A Waukee church is being criticized by angry parents for forcing child-care staffers to adhere to Christian principles, banning non-Christians, sexually-active singles, male-female roommates and practicing homosexuals from employment.
On Friday, staff members of the Happy Time Preschool & Daycare received letters informing them that the center was being reorganized into the Point of Grace Children’s Academy. Previously, the center operated in Waukee's Point of Grace Church, but religious affiliation was not stressed there, said former employees and parents.
Employees wanting to remain needed to reapply for their positions and agree to the new guidelines. These new guidelines were spelled out in a Christian Lifestyle Agreement included with employment applications. The agreement states that “every employee accept and follow a lifestyle commitment based upon Biblical principles.”
That lifestyle means regular attendance at a Christian church, no sex outside of marriage, no homosexual conduct, no viewing of pornography, no drug or alcohol use, and no vulgar language, according to the application posted on the church's website.
Point of Grace, an evangelical Christian church in Waukee, housed the Happy Time Daycare for three years. The daycare leases space from the church; it is unclear whether church officials hired and paid the daycare employees or whether they worked for another entity.
Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, running for the GOP presidential nomination, spoke to the church and listened as its pastor Jeff Mullen, railed against homosexuality as "unnatural," "immoral," and later showed a video of a man who claimed to be gay until finding God, according to NBC News. The pastor has endorsed Bachmann for president.
Mullen, speaking by phone Wednesday night to WHO-AM Radio said he was surprised some parents were upset and that the media reported the story. He said he expected members of the church's congregation to follow the same missive on how to live their lives handed down to staff of the daycare last week.
"When you sign on the dotted line when you choose to follow Jesus, he says this is the way your life should reflect me,” Mullen said to the radio show. “These are just standards for our believers. We have to clarify for our teachers that this is what our life should reflect.”
Mullen said he would not back down from changes at the child-care center because he knows some day he'll have to stand before God. He said he would like to tell parents, “You want a great academy, you got that. We will have honorable teachers — righteous teachers — teaching your kids.”
Katie Roberts, 18, of Waukee, was one of the Happy Time employees who received a letter late Friday afternoon. She said a member of the church staff informed them, without any prior notice, that Happy Time was closing.
“They took us out into the atrium and basically said, ’Happy Time Daycare is no longer here as of September 6,’” Roberts said. “’You will need to reapply for your job. Here’s your packet.’ I just walked away. I was bawling.”
According to the Point of Grace Children’s Academy website, the new daycare is now accepting applications for lead and assistant teachers.
Pastor Mullen and Academy Director Stephanie Chase did not return phone calls from Waukee Patch seeking comment.
Roberts said the magnitude of the change grew as employees read through the new job requirements.
“One of my co-workers is a lesbian and she said, ’I can’t reapply. You can’t be a homosexual,’” Roberts said. “It’s ridiculous. She was just doing her job.”
Bonnie Ribbens, one of the Happy Time directors, was also let go.
“I am confused and hurt and distraught over this,” Ribbens said. “I felt I was great in my position and I met the requirements.”
Roberts said parents learned of the change as they began picking up their children Friday around 3 p.m.
Nicole Nicholson, whose 20-month-old daughter was enrolled at Happy Time, was stopped by a church staffer when she came in the door and handed a letter in a sealed envelope. The letter said Happy Time Daycare was under new management. Students would be re-enrolled at the Point of Grace Children’s Academy.
“I opened it and was just skimming it as I walked into my daughter’s room,” Nicholson said. “Everyone was crying. All the kids were crying. There was a lot of tension in that room.”
Nicholson said after reading the letter more thoroughly, she realized that even Happy Time director Lori Moritz had been let go. On Monday, Nicholson and her husband withdrew their daughter from the center.
Happy Time parent Andi Tisor of Waukee said she’s most upset that parents were not given any inkling of the changes prior to Friday. The way the church treated staffers was also disconcerting. The end result, Tisor said, was to remove her 16-month-old daughter from the facility.
“The church is basically telling me that because of their (staffers) lifestyles, they are not qualified to take care of my daughter,” she said. “I’m the parent and I have every right to pull my daughter out of that daycare and take her somewhere else. I do not need to be told how to judge someone else’s lifestyle.”
Neither Nicholson nor Tisor were members of the Point of Grace Church.
Parents pulling their children from Happy Time Daycare and looking for other options are meeting Thursday, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Waukee Public Library.