COLUMBIA — The conclusion of a lawsuit against Heather Linneman’s in-home preschool has been postponed until July 9, when Judge Jodie Asel will declare a ruling on the case.
A hearing took place Friday, but Judge Asel thought she needed more time to deliberate over the logistics of the case and gave each of the lawyers representing the case more time for closing arguments.
The Linneman family was first contacted in 2004 about the preschool they run from the basement of their home at 4110 Treetop Lane. According to the Vanderveen Crossing Homeowner's Association covenants, residents are permitted from running “day care centers, residential care centers, nursing schools, or play schools from within their home.”
After receiving a letter from the homeowner's association about its concern, the Linnemans followed the homeowner's association's requests in order to continue to run Little Wonders Preschool by:
- acquiring a signature from Steve Herigon, builder of the house, to prove he gave verbal consent for the homeowners to host a preschool in the house,
- adhering to zoning laws and
- keeping the yard free of any signs advertising the preschool.
After the family fulfilled the requests in 2004, they were left alone.
“We never set out to go against any rules,” Linneman said. “We knew they applied to us, but we thought since we had permission, we would be OK.”
The Linnemans were addressed again after a neighbor filed a complaint in April 2009, but this time it was followed with a lawsuit from the homeowner's association suing them for running the preschool from their home.
“They can’t expect people to obey the rules if they change them in the middle of the game,” said Dierdre Cooney, who has been a Little Wonders assistant for the past five months.
Both Linneman and neighbor Teresa Norton said one reason the lawsuit is unfair is because there are other in-home day cares and preschools in the neighborhood that were not being targeted.
Linneman said the hearing continued to be pushed back from its original Aug. 25 date, according to a previous Missourian article, because both lawyers representing the case were trying to get a hold of Herigon, who was reluctant to get involved in the lawsuit.
Linneman also gave birth to a baby girl in November, which created another reason to postpone the hearing and put more stress on the family.
“It gives me the goosebumps and makes me sick to my stomach,” Linneman said about the possible termination of Little Wonders Preschool.
Because of the pending litigation, the Vanderveen Crossing Homeowner's Association Board is unable to comment, according to Stephanie Sinn, vice president of the association.
The April 2009 complaint was filed because a neighbor, who had their house on the market at the time, said the preschool was lowering the property value of their house and creating too much noise.
“I seriously questioned that,” Norton said. “You would have a difficult time proving it.”
Between the original complaint and the hearing Friday, the family with the complaint sold their home and no longer lives in the neighborhood.
“It’s a moot point now,” Linneman said.
Norton said she and other neighbors feel the preschool is a good idea and are upset with the lawsuit.
“I think it’s asinine of the homeowner's association to do this to the family in this economy,” neighbor Nancee Moreau said.
Linneman’s husband also has a full-time job, but without her business, they would be unable to afford their current home.
Money is also an issue with families who attend Little Wonders Preschool. With an enrollment fee of $125 per week, it is less expensive than other day cares such as the Child Learning & Development Center, which charges anywhere from $133 per week to $173 per week depending on age.
Little Wonders Preschool also accepts state subsidies from Division of Family Services for low-income parents who otherwise would not be able to afford child care. Six families out of the 13 who have children attending the preschool receive this aid.
“I try to work with anyone who walks through my door,” Linneman said.
Linneman chuckled when she added that some of the parents had asked her to continue to teach their children through kindergarten.
“The whole process has been stressful, but I am not going to let it stop me,” Linneman said. “I spend so much time with (the kids) that they’ve become a part of me.”