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State shuts down large Valley day care center

Many parents rallying behind owner

A fight with a parent that was witnessed by children prompted the state to suspend the license of a large Spokane Valley child care provider Thursday, state records show.

But while state officials insist they’re just following procedure until the full details are sorted out, many parents of the approximately 60 children now without day care or kindergarten rallied in support of Christ Beginnings Child Care Center’s owner, Jolene Allen, who a day earlier was ordered by the Washington Department of Early Learning to close.

The suspension came after the department received a complaint that Allen and a client, Chelsy James, were involved in a physical altercation at the center, located at 15112 E. 32nd Ave.

“Ms. Allen and Ms. James grabbed each other and went to the floor. Both sustained injuries including red marks and rug burns,” according to the notice, which said James’ child witnessed the fight and that her cell phone was broken.

When James tried to call police, Allen asked an employee to disconnect the phone, according to the notice. Police investigated, and parents said several children witnessed the fight, which some said began with a dispute over the disappearance of a penny jar.

“My grandson said ‘Jolene didn’t do anything wrong, She used her words,’” said Nola Bergman, explaining that Allen teaches kids to work out their problems “using words” instead of hitting or fighting. She joined about 60 others to rally support for a woman they described as a longtime child care provider they’ve trusted for years.

Department of Early Learning officials said the incident violated a state code that requires that owners, staff and volunteers operate a center in a “healthy, safe, nurturing, respectful, supportive and responsive environment.”

The child care center has about five employees. Allen is licensed to provide care for up to 70 children, state officials said.

Amy Blondin, department spokeswoman, said that Allen has held her license since 1996 and has had no prior complaints.

“Never has there been a question of her care for our children,” said Angela Simmet, who has two children at the center. One parent said many of the 60 or so children cared for by Allen won’t be going elsewhere.

“We will wait for her,” said Tara Fechser, who said her 7-year-old son has been at the center since he was a baby.

Allen and James could not be reached for comment.

Parent Rhonda Sdao said she spoke with Allen Thursday night.

“She feels like she let us all down,” Sdao told the crowd. “I said, ‘this is no longer your fight. This is all our fight.”

Parents distributed fliers at the rally with numbers to call to support Allen.

Blondin said that the department had heard from a few parents expressing support for Allen, and that the agency will weigh everything when deciding the future of Allen’s license.