Judge upholds closure of Macon day care

Telegraph staffApril 24, 2014 

A state administrative judge Thursday upheld the emergency closing of Charlotte’s Webb Learning Center on Macon’s Napier Avenue.

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

Owner Charlotte Perkins petitioned Tuesday to keep the center open, but Judge Steven W. Teate affirmed the order Thursday and the center will remain closed for up to 21 days, according to the judge’s order.

In his decision, Teate wrote that the center failed to comply with nine different state regulations, including failing to cooperate with the state’s investigation.

“It is obvious from the record that (Kendal) was in imminent danger and that any other child at the facility could likewise be at risk under the circumstances presented,” Teate wrote. “Moreover, Ms. Perkins’ response to the incident shows severe deficiencies in its operation that pose a danger to the children under its care.”

He later wrote that Perkins’ failing to work with investigators “demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the rules governing Child Care Learning Centers, which are designed to ensure the safety of children in care.”

Keith Bostick, deputy commissioner for programs for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said Thursday the agency is currently contacting schools and families to inform them of the decision and to help them make alternative day care plans while the agency continues its investigation into Charlotte’s Webb.

Bostick said the state has a broad range of options it can consider for the center’s fate, ranging from fines, restrictions and monitoring to revoking Perkins’ license and closing the center permanently.

Two former staff members of Charlotte’s Webb -- both of whom were fired after the incident -- failed to find Kendal on the bus despite signing required state forms that said they performed an inspection of the van as mandated. One of the former employees testified Tuesday that she is eight months pregnant and couldn’t physically get on the van to perform the inspection. She also testified that she was never given proper instruction of how to perform an inspection but was provided a manual to read.

Kendal eventually made it out of the bus after about four hours and entered the center. According to testimony Tuesday, the center’s staff didn’t immediately call his mother, Brittany Battle, nor did they have Kendal medically examined. When Battle arrived at the center to pick up Kendal and her other two children, Perkins admitted during testimony that she lied to Battle, claiming that Kendal was on the bus for only five minutes.

State officials testified that Perkins and other staff lied or gave conflicting answers during an investigation the next day.

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

Bostick said the state considered the totality of the center’s response to the incident in deciding to issue the emergency closure.

“This is one of those cases where there was significant weight placed in many areas,” he said.

Don Osborne, who represented Perkins in her petition to keep the center open, said Thursday he is disappointed in the decision.

“It’s not what we had hoped for,” he said. “I thought the judge might look behind (the incident) and see that (the center) is a real asset to the community. This is going to affect the entire community, not just the folks who work there.”

Osborne said he has already started conversations with the state about what Perkins can do to keep her license and reopen after the 21-day closure is over.

“At this point, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s pretty much in the department’s hands.”

Bostick said should the state decide to revoke Perkins’ license, she could appeal the decision in Bibb County Superior Court.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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