By Patrice K. Muhammad
The last day of operation for the Bracktown Academy Learning Center (BALC) was October 7, 2016.
The day care and learning center, serving children up to age 5, opened with great expectation and waiting lists but closed without fanfare amid state investigation, declining enrollment and profit loss. The closure came less than a month after a teacher strike halted morning drop offs.
With complaints of non-payment, several BALC teachers refused to work on September 16th. Due to the staff shortage, some students were turned away for the day. Many local television stations covered the teacher strike and filmed teachers and the church pastor in the parking lot of the Bracktown Academy and First Baptist Church Bracktown.
The teacher strike was the beginning of the end for the daycare, according to Ms. Kiyon Massey, who is a board member of First Bracktown, Inc. which managed the daycare.
In a September 16 television interview with WTVQ Channel 36, Bracktown Church Pastor CB Akins blamed a ”glitch” and the payroll company for the non-payment but insisted that there was money in the bank to pay the teachers.
Worker Tonia Walker said, in the same television interview, that for almost two months her wages were either deposited late into her account or she was paid late via check. The teachers spent hours protesting and hoping for their direct deposited pay.
Massey said that parents lost confidence in the teaching staff and began giving notice of withdrawal from BALC. Twenty-five percent of the students left after the strike and that was too much too fast, so the board decided to close.
“It was a very difficult business decision,’’ said Massey. “I was personally affected. My baby was enrolled there too. I know how hard it is to find quality childcare.’’
Parent Risa Richardson was shocked to learn that the daycare would close.
“I believed they would be able to pull it together and make things right but that didn’t happen,” she said. “Until the last few months when turnover was high and the attention to the details that we came to expect lapsed, I always felt confident in the care my kids received there. My son loved his teachers and I knew he was in good, loving hands while I was at work.”
Recently, however, the quality of child care at BALC has been questioned.
Online data from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) shows a string of complaint investigations related to BALC during 2016. Many instances of noncompliance were found including older children in rooms with younger children, students held in the office until enough staff arrived and failure to administer necessary blood pressure medication to a child.
There was also an investigation related to children having direct contact with a staff member who had been accused of abuse and was under investigation by DCBS after BALC was aware of the investigation.
The sudden increase in complaints were from “disgruntled former employees’’, according to Massey. “Typically, the first thing [fired workers] do is call licensing.’’
Massey said all issues found during the investigations were corrected. “When licensing came, based on their advice, we moved the worker who was under investigation to the kitchen to avoid even indirect contact with students. Those abuse claims were later unsubstantiated.’’
The final site visit to the Academy, available online, showed no violations.
The First BASE After School program has remained open per the parent letter and confirmation from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
A representative of CHFS reported that they had been notified that First Bracktown, Inc. was no longer going to provide day care services so their license was changed to reflect only after school care.
Rev. Akins said that all teachers have been paid for the hours worked.
However, parents were not reimbursed the annual school supply fee that was paid only a month earlier in August.
“In the end, I felt betrayed and deceived as things unraveled,” Mrs. Richardson said. “The real slap in the face was the letter about the closing, handed to me by someone I didn’t know as I walked out with my kids. I thought we deserved more than that, especially from an organization headed by a church [which is] headed by state education leaders. I’m still heartbroken about it all.”
In response, Ms. Massey said, “We are heartbroken too. We had a goal to provide quality child care. We had a standard of excellence.’’
The letters to parents were handed out by a board member. Massey said this was because they wanted a board member to answer any questions the parents had instead of staff members. “Maybe she did not identify herself,’’ she said.
Ms. Massey said the one disgruntled worker who was upset that her check was not direct deposited at midnight convinced other teachers to walk out with her. She says the worker was not retaliated against and remained employed until the center closed and is receiving unemployment.
Some workers were kept on as staff of the afterschool care program. Others were given letters of recommendation and reference.
At this time, the board does not have a plan to reopen the BALC.