SINGAPORE: Four pre-schools - the Buttercups Kindergarten in Pasir Panjang and Rochester, Frobel Pre-school Woodlands and School House by the Garden @ AMK - will close in mid-October.
In a joint media statement on Wednesday (Oct 4), the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), Education Services Union (ESU), Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) announced that the schools run by the Friedrich Frobel company will close with effect from Oct 12.
"This follows the recent closure of three other pre-schools under Friedrich Frobel (Buttercups Montessori Kindergarten, Happy Brainy Kidz in Wonderland and Frobel Lilac)," the statement read.
In two other separate statements, ECDA added that about 200 children were affected in the latest round of closures.
68 staff were affected by the closures of all seven schools.
STAFF, BUS OPERATORS UNPAID
According to the principal of Rochester Mall branch, Ms Janelle Chan, Friedrich Frobel Holding had not paid its rent for the month of September.
She added that she was told by the building management on Tuesday that the school would have to vacate the premises if no payment is made in a week.
Ms Chan added that she and her staff have not been paid their salaries for the month of September. They are planning to meet with officials from the Manpower Ministry.
A teacher at the Rochester Mall branch, who did not wish to reveal her name, added that they also lodged a complaint with the Central Provident Fund.
A parent, whose child was enrolled at Buttercups Pasir Panjang branch, said that the school had been unable to pay external vendors like its school bus operator.
School bus services at the Pasir Panjang branch were terminated this week, said the parent, who wanted to be known only as Mdm Ailay.
She added that she was very disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a proper graduation for her child.
Another parent, whose son is enrolled at the Rochester Mall kindergarten, told Channel NewsAsia that she, along with other parents, were dismayed by the closure as they were fond of the school.
The woman, who wanted to be known only as Mdm Lee, said that in their contract, parents were supposed to be given two weeks’ notice. “It’s just so sudden,” she added.
Mdm Lee's son is in K2 and has only a few months left in his school term before he starts Primary One next year.
“I’m lucky. I’ll probably just homeschool him for the remaining months. There are other parents whose kids might be much younger and some of them might have more than one child in the school.”
ALTERNATIVE PLACEMENT ARRANGED
"To support families and centre staff who have been affected by these closures", several measures have been taken, according to the original joint statement.
ECDA has arranged alternative placement for children who attended the shuttered preschools in other available schools in the area. The agency is also assisting parents of students attending the soon-to-close schools with placement.
"Given the circumstances, we understand that some operators are supporting parents with the initial enrolment costs," the statement read.
Additionally, grassroots advisors and a volunteer lawyer are also helping parents with matters relating to deposits and fees.
Meanwhile, MOM and Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board will assist affected members of staff with issues pertaining to owed salaries and CPF contributions. ESU will also help staff find alternative employment.
In a statement to Channel NewsAsia, ESU said that it was currently helping 10 members with their salary claims.
The closure is "complicated by the many stakeholders involved, as well as the ongoing lawsuit between various shareholders of Friedrich Frobel", the statement read.
One of the shareholders, Song Fanrong, was jailed recently for contempt of court. Song was first sent to prison on Sep 11 after she disobeyed a Mareva injunction to freeze her assets following a lawsuit filed by Chinese businessmen for alleged fraud.
Despite the court order, Song sold 2 per cent of her shares in Friedrich Frobel and some assets in the Buttercups Kindergarten Business.
Her jail time was later extended by five months when she failed to return the S$300,000 she gained from selling the assets.
Parent Mdm Lee said she was not very hopeful about getting her deposit back. “To be realistic, it is quite impossible to get back the deposit, because there are so many suing her for money,” she said.
Rochester Mall branch principal Ms Chan’s advice for parents is to go to the Small Claims Tribunal. “Getting a refund from the school now, I would say is impossible, because we do not have any finance colleagues to actually help us to do all this,” Ms Chan said.
The principal added that the school has not received any support from the company’s management ever since Song was jailed.
“We do not have any more staff or colleagues stationed at our headquarters. The centre, we are practically all running on our own,” Ms Chan added.
The remaining Friedrich Frobel school still in operation is its branch at Cashew.
Police have begun criminal investigations following the filing of several police reports, the joint ECDA statement said, adding that the Insolvency and Public Trustee's Office is also monitoring the company's status closely.
"ECDA will continue to closely monitor the situation and coordinate with relevant agencies to minimise disruption to children and parents as far as possible," it added.
Additional reporting by Janice Lim