Hastings day care center settles with state following several violations
It was something that Melissa Kirchhof had read about in the news, but she never thought it would happen to her family.
Her 6-year-old son was injured at the Hillside Learning Center in Hastings when his teacher bit him.
"When you put your kids into day care, you expect them to be cared for," Kirchhof said.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Department of Human Services moved to revoke the Hillside Learning Center's license after noting several infractions related to the health and safety of children.
But the decision extended beyond a recent court ruling against Christine Neubauer, who was sentenced to 60 days of supervised probation in Dakota County this September after she admitted to biting Kirchhof's son.
Following an appeal, the center's leadership agreed to surrender its license by next March under a settlement agreement signed Nov. 3 between DHS, and Hillside owners Swarna Peris and Naomi Moore.
Violation reports outline what DHS officials describe as chronic and severe offenses at the center, which is licensed to care for up to 80 children ranging from infants to school-aged kids.
DHS noted a handful of recent violations were repeat offenses from past inspections when it moved to revoke Hillside's child care license.
They include allegations of failing to maintain teacher-child ratios, improper record keeping and unqualified teachers running classrooms.
Three of Kirchhof's four children began attending Hillside Learning Center.
She had met with the director and teacher regarding a plan for her child's special needs. They were under the impression her son had some form of autism at the time and has since been diagnosed.
According to court records, on Aug. 31, 2016, Kirchhof's son was having a bad day and Neubauer physically restrained him. Neubauer told authorities he bit her while he was being restrained and she bit him back.
When Neubauer provided a statement to police, she said she had "screwed up." She explained the child had thrown a chair near the other children.
She restrained the child after that, which is when the biting incident occurred.
"To get called and be pulled in there and have somebody look you in the face and tell you that your child was abused by his teacher ... that was a hard pill to take," Kirchhof said.
Hillside terminated Neubauer's employment after the incident.
Since 2010, DHS identified nearly 100 violations at the day care center. A review of state reports showed many related to the health and safety of children, as well as administrative record keeping.
State officials also said Hillside attempted to avoid new citations by giving false information to DHS agents about an ineligible staff member with a criminal history.
Moore, who agreed to step down as Hillside's director, said the center off of Highway 55 will remain open.
An attorney for Hillside told the Hastings Star-Gazette that the day care plans to transfer its license to Moore's husband in the coming months.
"Nothing's really changed or happened," Moore said. "Hillside Learning Center is not closing."
Moore said parents have been informed of Hillside's past violations, but she and Peris declined to comment on the violations and the settlement agreement.
Under the settlement with the state, Moore and Peris will be ineligible to work at the center or hold leadership positions at a state-licensed day care for five years. They also cannot be issued new licenses or hold one for a child care center.
DHS issued a license in 2009.
Other reports allege unqualified or unlicensed teachers were working at a day care center.
A Hillside employee told DHS agents the day care is often short of staff. At one point, the center had one teacher for roughly 15 preschool and school-age children, according to a DHS report. The department requires one teacher for 10 preschoolers.
It "happens so frequently, it has become normal," the employee told state investigators.
Last year, the day care exceeded the hourly limit substitutes allowed to teach in a year. According to state records, substitute teachers logged more than 750 hours in a six-month span, according to a July 12, 2017 report. The state limits substitute teaching hours to 280 per year.