ST. GEORGE — Following a St. George News report detailing concerns raised by parents and a former employee of Little Harvard Academy, the lawyer representing the St. George child care facility said he is exploring all legal options regarding those who have made allegations of abuse and other problems, both with St. George News and online.
“At this juncture, we are looking at a pretty aggressive lawsuit,” attorney Adam Dunn said in a phone call Tuesday.
Jeanetta Dockstader, a single mother with three children in St. George, removed her children from Little Harvard in January, three days after she said her 3-year-old daughter came home from the facility with bruises on her arm.
Dunn said the girl told staff members at Little Harvard that the bruises happened with her grandmother in a kitchen.
However, Emily Baumgarten, a former employee of Little Harvard who quit in April, told St. George News she heard the bruises were caused by another staff member grabbing the girl’s arm roughly when she kept getting up during nap time.
On Wednesday, Dunn declined to talk about the specifics of the future lawsuits, but when he was asked if Little Harvard is considering a lawsuit against Dockstader, Dunn said: “Various lawsuits, yes.” He said:
One of the problems that happens when someone makes various statements is there can be an actual damage to the business based on allegations, and when those are unfounded or the timing of which as it is here – there are things we have to explore and look at to protect the business.
An emphasis on safety
Safety of the children is the most important goal of staff members and managers at Little Harvard, Dunn said, adding that every time a child is hurt in any way, it’s documented in a structured incident report system, including what the concerns were with the child.
“Little Harvard makes every possible effort to train its employees, to coach and guide them on how to deal with children of all ages,” Dunn said.
Dunn showed St. George News an incident report that he said was created on Jan. 23, the day the bruises were discovered on Dockstader’s daughter’s arm. According to Little Harvard’s report, the girl told a staff member the bruises happened at home in her kitchen, which is consistent with Little Harvard manager Tania Madrigal’s previous comments that the incident happened outside of the child care facility.
Dunn also provided multiple incident reports filed for the child that involved common events happening at Little Harvard, such as scraping a knee or something being thrown at her from another child at the day care.
Dunn added that the girl who received the bruises was a child who hit and kicked employees often.
On the day Dockstader ultimately withdrew her children from Little Harvard, which was a few days after the bruises were found, Dunn said Dockstader needed to be called in the middle of her work day to pick up her daughter because she was being unruly. When children act up and there is a concern for others’ safety, Dunn said Little Harvard will ask parents to pick up their kids.
“There comes a point in time where it becomes a safety risk for other children and a safety risk to the staff,” he said. “When you think, ‘Oh, it’s just a 3-year-old, what kind of damage can they do?’ but when they’re kicking, kicking, kicking, there comes a point you can’t do anything else but call the parents to remove the children.”
For Dockstader, the idea that her 3-year-old daughter could be considered a safety risk to adult staff members at the daycare is absurd.
“The way they’re making her out to be is disgusting to me,” Dockstader told St. George News. “She’s a 3-year-old girl. The fact that Little Harvard would say she’s absolutely out of control, that just baffles me, because if they really cared for those kids at all, they would never talk like that.”
Another way Little Harvard protects the safety of children is by keeping “state of the art” security cameras inside the daycare, Dunn said.
In the previous St. George News article as well as a police report, Dockstader said she was denied access to view the security camera footage when she asked staff members at the child care about how her daughter received bruises, a claim she maintained when contacted again Wednesday.
Dunn told St. George News she never asked for the footage.
“If she would have tried, she would have had every access to the footage,” Dunn said.
Dunn said the security cameras at Little Harvard store footage for two weeks before it’s purged, which means if footage from the cameras is not saved within that two week window, it is forever deleted.
However, according to comments from Madrigal on the official police report about the bruising incident, they were not able to find video footage of Dockstader’s daughter getting bruised at the facility because Dockstader “was not able to provide any type of time reference when she believed the incident occurred.”
In addition, Madrigal stated on the police report that the security cameras keep footage for 30 days, not just two weeks.
The police report Dockstader filed about the bruising incident was in July, nearly six months after she took her children out of the child care facility. The timing of the police report is suspect to Dunn because it was filed shortly after Little Harvard administrators decided to sue Dockstader for approximately $700 for failing to pay a debt.
These fees come from Dockstader breaking her contract with the day care when she removed her children without a two-week notice in January. Dockstader said she removed her children because she felt like her kids were at danger at the child care facility, which is why she feels like the fees for breaking the contract should not be applied to her.
“She has made various assertions that came up after she was asked to pay some money,” Dunn said. “To me, that’s disconcerting because if a mother is really concerned about her child, there’s a lot of things that can be done quickly.”
The police report, which concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to support any child abuse at Little Harvard, also noted that because Dockstader waited until July to file the report, “it puts a damper on it due to the time frame.”
Dockstader previously said one of the reasons she waited to file the police report was because of her busy schedule. However, she said Wednesday that the main reason it wasn’t filed until July is because that’s when Baumgarten told her about another staff member grabbing her daughter’s arm.
“When [Baumgarten] told me in July that someone hurt my daughter, of course I’m going to try to file charges,” Dockstader said. “If she would have told me in January, I would have known then.”
Baumgarten – who was one of the 3-year-old’s favorite staff members and someone with whom Dockstader has kept in touch – thought the mother already knew about what caused the bruise in January, which is why Dockstader said Baumgarten didn’t mention it until July. The topic about the bruises happened to come up in a conversation they had together, she said.
Paths moving forward
Dockstader said she first posted the allegations of abuse in a private Facebook group for mothers in St. George to find out if anyone else had negative experiences with the day care. That post received numerous other criticisms of the child care by other mothers who had children attend Little Harvard, she said.
“I just posted on there because I wanted to find out (what) other parent’s experiences were and I shared what my experience was,” Docstader said. “I wanted to know if I was the only one dealing with this.”
Dockstader said many mothers she never met started messaging her on Facebook after that post and shared similar problems they also had with Little Harvard. Many of these people also started leaving reviews of the business online.
Dunn said he has evidence some of these reviewers never had children attend Little Harvard, including checking the names of reviewers with Little Harvard records. However, he did say that it is possible some of them use different names on social media.
Regardless, he said, the allegations that Dockstader and others made on social media and to St. George News has the potential to damage the business. This is why lawsuits are being considered at this time.
“She’s impugning the safety of this facility that keeps copious records, for my opinion, because she doesn’t want to pay the bill,” Dunn said.
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