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Embattled child care center reopens

A large Spokane child care center shut down by the state two weeks ago reopened this morning.

The Academy of Little Bears in north Spokane will remain open pending a license revocation hearing in March.

The center, licensed to care for 201 children ages 12 months to 12 years old, was shut down Jan. 13 because of complaints to the state Department of Early Learning.

Owner Lori Sayman appealed, and 21 parents wrote letters attesting to “the quality of the child care and the hardship they and their children (several of whom are special needs children) have suffered as a result of the summary suspension,”according to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Administrative Law Judge Robert M. Murphy ruled Tuesday that the complaints didn’t meet the state requirements for shutting down a center without notice.

“The allegations, while serious do not rise, to the level of imminent danger,” Murphy wrote. “It is in the public interest of the children and the parents of the children who attend the child care facility to have it remain open during the pendency of these proceedings.”

The center had appealed a license revocation from October and was operating pending the hearing in March. Two incidents this month and in December prompted the state to close the center immediately.

On Dec. 23, a 2-year-old girl with bruises on her face told employees “mom did it,” according to the department, but the employees didn’t immediately report the abuse as required by state law.

On Jan. 10, a parent called a child abuse hotline and said her child reported that two other children had touched her inappropriately during nap time at the center.

The department said the center failed to report the abuse, Sayman said her employees didn’t know of the allegations until the parent complained.

The department said the allegations of unreported sexual abuse justified closing the center without a hearing, but Judge Murphy points to the fact that the department didn’t take action until three days after the Jan. 10 complaint.

“It should have received the report sooner than that if it was evidence of ‘imminent danger to vulnerable,’” Murphy wrote.

Also, the child’s mother doesn’t believe Sayman knew of the conduct and didn’t tell her, Murphy wrote.

“Obviously, she did not perceive an imminent risk of danger to her daughter or she would not have brought her back and left her at the facility,” according to the ruling.

The Academy of Little Bears has been licensed since 1994.