State found 16 violations in 3 years at Ballantyne preschool where fondling is alleged

Joseph Starnes
Joseph Starnes Mecklenburg County jail

The Ballantyne preschool where a former teacher is accused of molesting at least two boys has committed 16 child care violations since 2014, state records show.

In February 2016, state inspectors found “an unsafe environment” violation at Primrose School of Ballantyne. A staff member was suspected of being “under the influence” while caring for children, and a staff member slapped a 1-year-old in the face on two separate occasions, state records show.

The preschool is rated one star in the state’s five-star ranking of day care centers, according to the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education. One star is the lowest rating.

The school was in the news this week after Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police accused former Primrose of Ballantyne teacher Joseph Starnes, 35, of “forcibly fondling” at least two boys at the south Charlotte school. Starnes was arrested on Friday and charged with six counts of indecent liberties with a child.

Police said they were notified on March 7 that an 8-year-old boy had been fondled at the school. During their investigation, CMPD detectives obtained information and evidence that a 7-year-old boy also had been fondled at the school in the 15900 block of Lancaster Highway.

In light of the arrest, state regulators “are considering next steps” against Primrose School of Ballantyne, Cobey Culton, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday. He declined to be more specific. “By law, we cannot comment on possibly pending investigations,” Culton said.

The school, meanwhile, has by letter addressed all 16 of its child care violations since 2014, according to the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education. The violations are listed on the division’s website along with those of all other N.C. child care centers.

Among the more recent violations, according to state records:

▪ In February, before employment, “all staff did not provide test results showing they were free of active TB. TB test was older than 12 months. One staff member with a hire date Aug. 16, 2016, had TB test results older than 12 months.”

▪ In February 2016, a staff member “roughly grabbed” a 1-year-old by the arm.

▪ In June 2016, minimum staff/child ratios and group sizes for the number and ages of children in care were not met.

▪ In September 2016, a staff member handled a child roughly and spoke harshly to children.

▪ In December 2016, caregivers failed to document compliance with visually checking on sleeping infants and/or the documents were not maintained for at least a month.

The violations were found during unannounced visits that state inspectors regularly make at all day care centers statewide. Additional visits are made to investigate complaints and provide technical assistance as time allows, according to the N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education. The division can take administrative action against a program, from a written reprimand to a suspension.

Mary Schroeder, franchise owner of Primrose School of Ballantyne, did not reply to an email request for comment from the Observer on the violations and the center’s one-star rating. In an updated statement about Starnes’ arrest, she said: “The safety and security of the children in our care is always our top priority. When an incident occurs that does not meet our standards, we report to and work hand-in-hand with state licensing to take corrective actions.”

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak