SARANAC LAKE - The state has removed the director from a local preschool and day care center that was cited for more than 30 violations of state child care regulations over the past 16 months, including "serious allegations" made last month.
The state Office of Children and Family Services notified Rhonda Preston, director of Doug's Place, in an Aug. 1 letter that it had "received a complaint with serious allegations regarding your day care center" on July 17.
"The allegations are currently under investigation by the office," the letter states. "Pending the outcome of the investigation, effective immediately, the office is withdrawing the approval of your status as director (of the center). ... Effective immediately, you are to have no child care role at the day care center."
The state is investigating “serious allegations” invoving the care of a child at Doug’s Place, a day care center and preschool in Saranac Lake, seen Tuesday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Casey McNulty, an OCFS spokeswoman, emailed the Enterprise a copy of the Aug. 1 letter but said she couldn't provide any more information about the complaint or the allegations because it's an ongoing investigation. She also couldn't say whether the allegations are connected to a long list of violations the State Street facility has been cited for in the last year-and-a-half.
Reached at her home Tuesday evening, Preston said, "We are working on this" and asked the newspaper "to do the best you could not to blast the business," but otherwise referred questions to her attorney, Brian Barrett of Lake Placid.
Barrett provided the Enterprise with a copy of a letter he sent Friday to Trudeau Institute President Ronald Goldfarb. The institute owns the building Doug's Place is located in and contracted with Preston to run the center, but doesn't hold the child care license to the facility. Many of the kids who go to the center are children of Trudeau Institute employees.
Barrett's letter says the allegations against Preston relate "to her care of a single child" at Doug's Place.
"I have reviewed the subject allegations, and we anticipate that the allegations will be unfounded," the letter reads, citing Preston's 29 years of experience as a child care provider. "At no point in Ms. Preston's long career have there ever been any findings or accusations of abuse or neglect of any child in her care."
Barrett asked the Institute's Board of Trustees to "reserve decision on taking actions against Ms. Preston" until the state investigation has been completed.
Trudeau spokeswoman Kim Godreau wrote in an email that Trudeau officials are aware of the issues at Doug's Place but that "the matter lies between the licensed operator and (OCFS), so the Trudeau Institute has no basis for further comments."
A series of state inspections of Doug's Place between April 2012 and last month turned up a total of 32 violations, according to a report on the OCFS website. Fifteen have since been corrected, while the rest, including a dozen violations based on inspections conducted last month, were listed on the report as not corrected.
The report doesn't describe the incident or observation that led to each violation; it only gives a brief description of the child care regulation that was violated.
The report states that the center was cited twice for violating rules that prohibit corporal punishment of children, like spanking, and for using "methods of discipline, interaction or toilet training which frighten, demean or humiliate a child." Inspectors also found the center had not established and provided disciplinary guidelines to all staff and parents.
Several violations deal with children being left without direct supervision and having inadequate staffing. On three occasions, the facility violated a regulation that prohibits "isolating a child in a closet, darkened area, or any area where the child cannot be seen and supervised by a staff member," the report says.
Other violations relate to employee hiring and training procedures, like not following proper background check procedures and failing to get statements from prospective employees' doctors showing they are physically, psychologically and emotionally fit to provide child care.
The summary report on the OCFS website says it does not include the results of other inspections conducted on June 19, July 16 and last Thursday.
The report says the center has a total capacity for six infants, 12 toddlers and 20 preschoolers.
The number of violations found at Doug's Place is far beyond those cited at any other Saranac Lake area day care center, based on what's on the OCFS website. In fact, only one other day care center was listed as having current uncorrected violations as of Tuesday. ACAP Head Start on Depot Street was cited in May for not repairing peeling or damaged paint or plaster, or not covering concrete floors used by children with appropriate materials.
The Enterprise learned of the allegations against Doug's Place from a local parent whose child had been slated to attend pre-kindergarten this fall at the center. She said Saranac Lake Central School District officials contacted her Friday and told her the district is pulling its pre-kindergarten slots from the center.
"We had heard rumors, and then the school district called and confirmed it," the parent, who didn't provide her name, told the newspaper. "It's important for people to know."
"We were planning on sending 12 students (to Doug's Place)," said Dan Bower, the district's assistant superintendent for business. "That was before we heard of any of these issues. We have not issued contracts to any of the providers yet with final numbers, so obviously we'll revisit that and make the necessary adjustments and accommodations."
Superintendent Diane Fox said the district is in the process of contacting parents of students that were given initial UPK assignments at Doug's Place. She said they will likely be given slots at one of the three other providers the district plans to contract with this year: Northern Lights School, Children's Corner and Kids R Us.
Fox said the issues at Doug's Place were first brought to the attention of Bloomingdale Elementary School Principal Patricia Kenyon, who oversees the UPK program. Fox said school officials then "immediately" checked the OCFS website, read the report on Doug's Place and verified the information with OCFS officials.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.