The director of a Jones County day care center was charged with four counts of reckless conduct after four children were found walking home on the side of a road during a surprise state inspection.
Lavern Stubbs, 36, of a Clinton Road address, was released on $4,000 bond Monday, said Jones County sheriff’s investigator Kenny Gleaton.
The state’s Department of Early Care and Learning, also called Bright from the Start, also has launched an investigation into conduct at Kids University, located at 833 Ga. 49, where Stubbs works.
A motorist driving along a busy three-lane section of Ga. 49 in Jones County late Monday morning spotted the children walking down the road. She stopped, loaded the children into her car and drove to the nearest gas station to call for help, Gleaton said.
The children, siblings ages 6, 8, 9 and 11, told a deputy that they’d walked from Kids University after Stubbs instructed them to go home. The children live about 15 miles away on the other side of Jones County off Ga. 18 West, he said.
Gleaton said the deputy took the children back to Kids University, and Stubbs denied that they were enrolled at the center.
Deputies later learned that an inspector from the Department of Early Care and Learning had arrived for a surprise visit Monday. The department oversees Georgia’s licensed day cares.
Initially, Stubbs denied that the children were enrolled at the center, saying that a woman on nearby Oak Valley Drive kept them, according to a sheriff’s report. She called the woman and the woman came to the center.
The woman told a deputy she had been watching the children, but they left and she’d been looking for them. She didn’t know the children’s mother’s name or phone number, though, according to the report.
Later, Stubbs told deputies she knew the center was over capacity on Monday and that she tried to hide the four children behind an outside storage shed, Gleaton said.
But the inspector found them, and Stubbs explained that they weren’t enrolled at the center. She said they were from a nearby neighborhood. Stubbs then told the children to leave, Gleaton said.
“They left out walking, going home,” he said.
Several minutes passed between the time the children left the center and when the motorist spotted them less than a mile away. No one was injured.
The day care center was open for business Tuesday, but Stubbs couldn’t be reached for comment. A man at the front desk said Stubbs was busy with the children. Calls to the center were not answered, and a message was not returned Tuesday.
A note to parents was posted on the desk advertising an upcoming meeting.
The charges against Stubbs come in the wake of The Telegraph’s “Our Children’s Keepers” project, a series of articles examining day care issues and problems in Middle Georgia.
Gleaton said Stubbs told deputies that she’d read the series, and the stories were on her mind when she decided how to react to the surprise inspection.
State day care inspector Melissa Herndon told the sheriff’s office that she counted 26 children when she arrived Monday. She later recounted and found that the number had dropped to 22, the licensed capacity of Kids University.
The center had a previous violation for the being over capacity in June 2009, when 25 children were in care at the center, according to a state monitoring report online.
The children’s mother later told deputies that her husband dropped off the children at Kids University on Monday morning where they were enrolled. She said she didn’t know the woman from Oak Valley Drive, according to the report.
Gleaton said no charges have been filed against the Oak Valley Drive woman.
Stacey Moore, public relations director for Bright from the Start, said the agency has launched its own investigation, which may take several weeks. Any adverse actions will be determined afterward, she said.
Moore declined to comment in detail on what happened while the investigation is pending, but said Bright from the Start will monitor the progress of the criminal case and any new charges that might be filed.
The department has the power to assign an emergency monitor to a day care. Moore said officials have not yet decided whether to do so at Kids University.
Monday’s monitoring visit would have been the center’s third from a state day care inspector this year. Earlier inspections posted online found a range of violations, including playground safety issues, lack of emergency forms and first aid kits in vehicles that transport children, and a variety of minor problems. A complaint investigation last year found that a boy had been “popped” on the leg as a form of punishment, which violates the ban on corporal punishment in state day care rules.
During inspections in February and April, state records online show that Stubbs had not had a criminal background check run on herself as required. However, Gleaton said she had no criminal history before her Monday arrest.
In April, the center was also missing background checks for several other staff members, Bright from the Start records show.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.