Judge will rule soon in Macon day care case

pramati@macon.comApril 22, 2014 

A judge will decide by Thursday if he will let a Napier Avenue day care center remain open after the state issued an emergency closure order against it last week.

Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning issued the emergency order against Charlotte’s Webb Learning Center after 5-year-old Kendal Battle was left in the center’s van about four hours April 14 after he apparently fell asleep.

A hearing in the case was held Tuesday. The state contends that the center failed to inspect the van properly, and that the child was trapped inside from about 4:30 p.m. to about 8:30 p.m.

During cross-examination Tuesday, day care owner Charlotte Perkins admitted that she lied during statements to the boy’s mother, Brittany Battle, and to state investigators.

Perkins also testified that both employees who were supposed to have inspected the van were subsequently fired.

Though Kendal sustained no physical injuries, Brittany Battle testified Tuesday that the boy was traumatized and has had to sleep in her bed rather than his own since the episode, often waking up screaming after nightmares.

Since the center is asking the court to block the emergency shutdown, the burden of proof is on the state agency to convince the judge that the closure is necessary.

Regardless of the judge’s decision, the state’s investigation into day care center operations remains open, officials said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Charlotte’s Webb attorney Don Osborne said there was no disputing that Kendal had been left in the van for four hours. During his questions and cross-examinations, however, he noted repeatedly that it was up to the two day care workers -- trained to inspect the van -- to do their job. There was only so much that Perkins could do, he said, since she didn’t know of the incident until after one of her workers contacted her that night.

He also noted Perkins’ long history of child care, serving as a foster parent for more than 300 children since the early ‘90s. Charlotte’s Webb has been in business since September 2009. Before that, Perkins had a child care service in her home. Osborne said Perkins had a long history of helping families.

“She’s been a real asset to this community,” he said.

However, DECAL attorney Clare Michaud noted during her questioning and arguments that Perkins had changed her story several times about the incident. In addition, Ashley Wilson, an agency compliance officer, testified that a signature on the form the center is required to sign after a van inspection appeared to be altered with correction fluid. Wilson testified that it was Perkins’ signature covered up in favor of Ladelil Snell’s, a worker who was supposed to have performed the second inspection.

Snell testified later that because she is eight months pregnant, she was unable to climb all the way into the van to inspect it as required by the state. Snell said it was only her second time inspecting a van, and her only training came when she was handed a manual containing the guidelines.

That appeared to contradict earlier testimony from Jerneicey Lajuana Brown, Perkins’ daughter and the center’s assistant director. Brown testified that she personally supervised each employee’s training to make certain it complied with state guidelines.

The other dismissed employee wasn’t called to testify Tuesday.

Gloria Dumas, who oversaw the class the night of the incident, said when she saw Kendal at the door of the center, he was quiet and seemed fine. She testified that she had assumed his mother had just dropped him off and hadn’t signed in. However, Kendal’s brother and sister had been at the day care center all day.

Brittany Battle became emotional when she testified what happened when she arrived at the school. She said she received no notification of any incident and that Perkins told her Kendal had been on the van for just “five minutes” before Perkins found him.

Battle said when she was leaving, she called another worker at the center to ask what had happened. Her other children -- ages 6 and 4 -- interrupted her and told her Kendal had been on the van for a lot longer and didn’t enter the center until that evening.

Battle testified that Kendal later complained when he got home that he was hungry and that his chest and stomach hurt. She said he told her he was mad at her for leaving him in the van.

Osborne asked the judge to consider suspending the center’s transportation service, rather than granting the emergency shutdown, until the state was satisfied it complied with state law.

However, Michaud argued that the situation was more than a transportation issue because “the response of the center was to cover it up.”

Judge Steven Teate asked if the state had someone who could monitor the center each day, but officials told him there aren’t enough employees to do so.

After the hearing, Battle said she is still angry about the incident.

“When you leave a child on the van, that’s not a mistake. You’re not doing your job,” she said. “As a parent, I trusted them with my kids.”

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