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State To Close Day Care Owners Vow To Contest Closure Of Another

Tue., July 23, 1996

The state is closing another Spokane day-care center, infuriating the owners and panicking the parents of about 45 children.

When Kinder College Corner at Nevada and North shuts down Friday as ordered, it will be the second center the state has closed in the past three weeks in its crusade to weed out shoddy child care.

Both centers belong to Judith and Gary Roberts, who have been in the Spokane day-care business for 22 years. They also own two other Kinder College centers that remain open.

The owners asserted Monday they are targets of a state vendetta and vowed to take legal action today to stop the closure.

“They’ve been looking for any little reason to close it down,” Judith Roberts said. “I’m shaking. I can barely talk. I don’t know what their personal vendetta is against me and my husband.”

State officials say they are simply refusing to allow substandard child care to continue at the Kinder College, at 1002 E. North.

Concerns there ranged from inadequate staff-to-child ratios and lousy sanitation to falling behind on employee pay.

“The state is really taking a clear look at the intent of providing safe, healthy and developmentally appropriate facilities for children,” said Linda Ernst, acting director for the state Office of Child Care Policy. “It’s become a real big push for us.”

But most of the stunned mothers who picked up their children Monday weren’t aware of any problems at the center. They didn’t know where they would take their children next.

“This is outrageous,” said one of the parents, Bonnie Howard. “This day care has been superb.”

Her 8-year-old son, Nick, has been going to the two-story center for six years.

The state decided to shut down the North Side day care - which the Roberts have owned since 1974 - because of “chronic” problems.

Inspectors found 34 violations when they visited on July 11, a dozen of which were pointed out to the owners during a Feb. 20 visit.

State documents also note the following recent allegations and observations:

A child was put in a dark room alone and left in a high chair for extended periods of time.

The center was dirty and had a bad odor.

There was a lack of nurturing care and activities for children.

A staff member was seen dragging a child by the arm across the playground.

The Robertses said the problems cited by the state are either exaggerated or already have been fixed.

“For the past four months we’ve been requesting copies of the complaints” about the center, Judith Roberts said. “How can you fix something when you don’t know what to fix?”

Roberts also claimed the state sent conflicting reports Monday.

The Spokane office of the state Department of Social and Health Services informed the couple that its center on North would be closed, effective Friday. The agency’s Olympia office, however, sent word to the owners that they had until Monday to correct deficiencies.

While the state routinely shuts down substandard in-home day-care providers, center closures are still rare. There have been three center closures this year, but none in the five prior years.

Vicky Calamia, who was picking up her three kids Monday, called the Kinder College on North a wonderful place. “I’ve never had a problem. They enjoy coming here. They would rather come here than stay home with me on my days off.”

After reading a notice about the impending closure, parent Shelly Raymond comforted center director Renae Nilles.

“This is my job,” Nilles said, crying. “This is my life. These are my kids.”

Raymond said she’s had her daughter, Kaylee, 5, enrolled at centers she thought were far worse. “Tell me she just doesn’t love it here,” she said, as Kaylee chasing and hugging a staffer.

Raymond looked at the notice again. “They’re telling me to get a day care by Friday! I get off work at 4:30. Please.”

The state encouraged parents to contact Family Care Resources, a local agency that helps people find child care.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

Tags: government

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