State officials suspended the license of a troubled Ballantyne day care center and a legislator called for criminal charges Thursday after a former teacher was accused of inappropriate contact with children.
State Rep. Scott Stone, whose district includes the center, formally requested that District Attorney Andrew Murray seek criminal charges against Primrose School of Ballantyne’s management.
“This is just the latest in a series of violations for Primrose School of Ballantyne,” Stone said. “The management has shown considerable disregard for our most defenseless and innocent population and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for their actions.”
Stone requested the DA’s office prosecute four people at the school on child endangerment charges because they allowed former teacher Joseph Starnes to return as a care giver the day after management was informed of his actions.
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The N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education issued the summary suspension action Thursday against Primrose School of Ballantyne. The action requires the school, licensed to serve up to 186 children up to age 12, to close its doors at the end of the business day Thursday.
Division officials said they had “determined that Primrose School of Ballantyne is not a safe and healthy environment for children … and that emergency action is required to protect the health, safety and welfare of children.”
“We were really taken aback,” parent Abhay Kumar told WBTV, the Observer’s news partner, at Primrose Thursday morning. “We were shocked.”
Primrose told parents they hope to reopen soon, she said, but the parents might not come back.
“That’s a debatable question,” Kumar said.
On Thursday night, the national Primrose School chain announced it is terminating its franchise agreement with Ballantyne franchise owner Mary Schroeder.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the students and their families at this time,” CEO Jo Kirchner said in a statement. “These incidents are the kind that no parent should ever face. We take these allegations very seriously.”
Kirchner said the chain is “working diligently” to help parents find other day cares for their children. She referred all other questions about the case to police.
The school was in the news this week after Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police accused 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.
The preschool has committed 16 child care violations since 2014, state records show.
State officials said the summary suspension is based upon school management’s failure to notify staff that a teacher was accused of inappropriately touching a child while working at the facility.
“Although the owner/administrator, the director and an assistant director had been informed of the allegations on March 6, 2017, they did not prevent the alleged perpetrator from caring for children for a portion of the day on March 7, 2017. Administration failed to ensure a safe environment for children by allowing the teacher to have access to children after being informed of the inappropriate touching,” said a statement from state officials.
“The teacher has since been arrested and charged with six counts of indecent liberties with a child. By failing to prevent the teacher from returning to the facility and allowing him contact with children, facility management exposed children to a significant risk of further harm.”
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.
State officials said they had issued two prior administrative actions against the center for noncompliance with state child care requirements, including supervision of children, discipline of children and criminal record checks.
Primrose was given a “special provisional license” effective Nov. 22 because of past violations, state records show. On Feb. 2, it improved to a one-star license.
No violations were found on an unannounced visit by the state on Feb. 7, but Primrose received a violation notice on an unannounced followup visit on Feb. 14. The violation was for not all staff providing test results before their employment showing they were free of active TB, state records show. Also, a staff member hired in August had TB test results older than 12 months.
The N.C. Division of Child Development and Early Education is charged with oversight of the safety of child care facilities.