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State investigator finds evidence of physical abuse at East Lake Early Learning Academy

Crime and public safety Kirkwood Metro ATL Trending

State investigator finds evidence of physical abuse at East Lake Early Learning Academy

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This story has been updated. 

Atlanta, GA – A state investigator found that an employee of East Lake Early Learning Academy physically abused a child in their care.

The daycare is part of the YMCA and is a feeder school for Drew Charter School. Officials with the YMCA confirmed that three employees involved have been fired as a result of the investigation. The incidents came to light after a staff member reported them.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning inspected the facility in response to a complaint about incidents that occurred in January.

Investigators uncovered multiple instances of mistreatment of a child by a teacher. These details might be upsetting to some readers.

– Investigators determined that on Jan. 14, 2020 during free play, a 2-year-old child was placed in restrictive equipment used for aerobic exercise for approximately five minutes. Staff statements and video footage further revealed that on Jan. 16, 2020 around 7 a.m. during morning free play, a 2-year-old child was forcefully placed down in a wooden chair and strapped into the chair while crying. The teacher was observed to place her knee on the back of the chair causing the child’s chest to the pressed against the table. The staff member asked the child, “Want to go cry in the bathroom?” The child was then locked in the restroom while being strapped to the chair for approximately 25 minutes. The child was allowed out of the restroom but remained strapped in the chair. Video footage further revealed that on Jan. 17, 2020, a staff member took another child’s open hand and hit a 2-year-old child in the face twice and on the back multiple times.

– Investigators determined that on Jan. 16 staff at the school picked up a 2-year-old child who was restrained to a chair and turned the chair so that the child’s legs and chair legs were above the child’s head. If the restraints failed, it could’ve injured the child.

– Investigators determined that on Jan. 14, children were allowed to play in the Heritage Room at the YMCA, which is not a licensed part of the child care center.

– Investigators determined that on Jan. 14, staff were huddled on the floor of the Heritage gym with their backs to a child. On Jan. 16, staff placed a 2-year-old child in a dark bathroom and locked the door. The child was in the bathroom for 18 minutes, out of sight from the staff person in the classroom.

A spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning said the case has been referred to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services and that agency will determine if criminal charges are warranted.

“As a regulatory agency, we often work with law enforcement, however, our role and jurisdiction are strictly to determine if any rules and regulations for child care programs were violated and then to substantiate or un-substantiate the allegations of the complaint,” the spokesperson said.

In a letter to families sent after this story was published, the YMCA confirmed that the abuse involved one child and not multiple children. The full letter is printed at the end of this article.

Lauren Koontz, YMCA of Metro Atlanta President and CEO, said in an email that no criminal complaint has been filed against the employees involved.

“If at any time, there is any indication that a child has suffered a suspicious injury, the police and DFACS would be immediately notified,” Koontz said. “That was not the case here.”

Koontz said the YMCA fired the center director, a teacher and a teacher’s aide were placed on administrative leave immediately after they were questioned. They were fired on Feb. 5.

“The center director was fired for not taking direct and decisive action in accordance with our procedures upon hearing from a source that a teacher may have deviated from acceptable procedures interacting with a child,” Koontz said. “The teacher, who breached our policies was also fired. The teacher’s aide was also fired.”

Koontz said the incidents came to light after “a conscientious staff member of the East Lake branch alerted the branch Executive Director on Jan. 29 of an unusual interaction he had observed.”

“The Executive Director immediately followed our reporting procedures by contacting senior management,” Koontz said. “In instances of suspected off-policy behavior, the Y is regulated to contact Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, who is responsible for meeting the childcare and early education needs of Georgia’s children and their families. Bright from the Start is empowered by DFACS to investigate issues and report its findings to all parties.  The investigation focused on the teacher in question.”

Koontz said that as a parent and chief guardian of children in the Y’s care she is “deeply saddened about this situation.”

“We have strict guidelines for interacting with children and there is simply no excuse for this teacher’s behavior,” she said. “We do not have any leeway or tolerance for child safety at the Y.  We have immediately begun requiring that classrooms receive impromptu, frequent visits by senior staff. Additionally, we will continue to reinforce that child safety is everyone’s priority at the Y, and they must speak up at the slightest observation of something off-policy, which is what the Eastlake staff member did and to him, we are very grateful.”

The firings and report shocked parents who have children in the daycare.

Cris Gray, who had a daughter at the school, said a few weeks ago parents received a message that the three employees were no longer with the daycare. At the time, parents didn’t know why the employees had left.

Then parents saw the inspector’s report.

“It was jaw-dropping,” Gray said. “I talked with some other parents and everybody had the same reaction of just shock. You read it and you want to cry for that child. So, then everything snapped into focus. ‘Oh, that’s why people were immediately dismissed.'”

Gray said his experience at the school has been fantastic and he’s never seen the kind of behavior detailed in the report.

He said he was satisfied with the Y’s response.

“In my opinion, I think they’ve handled it well,” he said.

Erica Allard also has a daughter at the school and is expecting another child. The report has caused her to reconsider whether to put that child in the daycare. She said that she felt school officials could’ve been more transparent about what happened.

“It was pretty shocking,” Allard said.

Here is a letter that East Lake Family YMCA Executive Director Tony Kimbrough sent to families after Decaturish published this story. 

East Lake Early Learning Families,

I am contacting you this evening to address an important question multiple parents have understandably asked, which is whether their children could have been involved in the child safety incident at East Lake.  Based on interviews and a review of videotapes, multiple investigations determined the child safety incident was limited to one teacher and one child.  As soon as the incident was reported and an investigation was started, the parents of the impacted child were immediately contacted. We have maintained an open dialogue with the parents of the child.  The lead investigative authority in this matter, Bright from the Start, enumerated each instance of inappropriate behavior in its report but did not note that it was the same teacher and child each time.  This has created additional concern for which we are truly sorry.

We will continue to state that our number one priority at the Y is child safety, and we are gratified that senior management was alerted to this situation by a concerned employee.  We took decisive action and fired the teacher who did these senseless things, her aide and the Center’s director.  Now, we are implementing new actions to ensure no one in authority around children can behave in any way that is not caring, understanding and respectful.

I appreciate that you have reached out to me with questions and concerns over the last few days, and I want to assure you that I will continue to be in touch.

Tony Kimbrough

Executive Director

EAST LAKE FAMILY YMCA

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