FRANKLIN, Ind. - Two state agencies have launched separate investigations into a Johnson County day care after a mother complained that her son was sprayed with bleach by an angry teacher at the facility.
The mother showed state inspectors a long-sleeve shirt that her son was wearing, saying it was discolored and splotched from the chemical, which also caused skin irritation for her son.
“He was scratching his hand saying it was real itchy and stuff and his hand was red,” said Sally Southard, mother of 10-year-old Jalen Ward.
Southard was employed at the Kid Company Day Care on Lovers Lane in Franklin when the incident took place last month. She told Call 6 Investigators she complained to her managers and urged them to notify the state, but she claims she was fired when she pushed the issue.
“I know it’s very clear why I was fired,” she said.
Her son told state investigators that he had interrupted a new teacher, causing her to become angry. He said she then turned and sprayed him with a bleach solution in response to his interruption.
A second employee at the day care wrote a letter stating she had witnessed the event, and that letter was turned over to state investigators as well.
Separate investigations were confirmed by Child Protective Services, which investigates abuse and neglect of children, and the Indiana Department of Family and Social Services, which licenses day cares.
On Thursday, FSSA inspectors said they were unable to verify any of the allegations of abuse or neglect with the bleach spraying episode.
The inspection that resulted from the mother’s complaint did result in citations, but most were unrelated to the spraying incident, said Marni Lemons, an agency spokeswoman.
She said the day care was cited for improperly mixing the bleach bottles used for disinfecting, one of which was involved in the mother’s claims.
“It really hurt his feelings where he didn’t even want to go back into that room after that," Southard said. "He would do anything to try to keep from going into that teacher’s room, he was so scared to be in there.”
“I was very upset but was working in another room and I didn’t want to lose my job or I probably would have went over there and took matters into my own hands,” she added.
Southard said she was fired on trumped-up charges after she confronted her managers about leaving the employee around children and failing to notify the state.
She said she had just gotten a performance raise of 50 cents per hour, yet she was handed paperwork that showed she was being fired for talking on the cell phone and yelling at a child. She said the incidents on her firing paperwork were back-dated to reflect that they had occurred earlier.
“I know my son won’t be going back to that day care ever, and it makes me skeptical of ever taking him back to any day care because you never know,” she said.
The Indiana Administrative Code requires that any day care must immediately notify the state of any allegation of staff abusing or neglecting a child.
Inspection records from FSSA show that Kid Company Day Care has been sanctioned twice in the past for failing to notify the state about incidents affecting children.
On Oct. 18, 2010, seven citations were issued, including one for delaying a report of abuse or neglect. On Dec. 20, 2010, the facility received five citations, including one for failing to notify the state that a child had been forgotten on a bus, which is considered by state law to be possible neglect.
On Oct. 21, 2010, FSSA records show that five citations were issued against Kid Company Day Care over its discipline of a child. State inspectors ruled that an employee inflicted physical discomfort or injury and that the discipline was illegal in that it was “harsh” or “frightening.”
State records also show numerous instances where FSSA inspectors found no problems during routine visits, including one inspection in December.
The day care’s director said the problems occurred under previous managers.
The director of Kid Company Day Care, Elaine Roldan, told Call 6 Investigators she did not report the bleach spraying incident to the state because she did not consider it a formal complaint.
“There wasn’t actually an allegation,” she said.
Roldan said the child was not sprayed out of anger or for punishment.
She said, “The teacher was cleaning the table. This child has behavioral issues and was mad at the teacher. The teacher sprays a table, wipes it down, sprays a table, wipes it down, so as she sprays the table, he threw his hand on the table.
“There was no actual harshness or she didn’t go around spraying him with bleach or spraying kids with bleach, ‘oh you’re bad’ spray. No,” said Roldan.
Her staff then retrieved a bottle marked “bleach” from a nearby room. The spray bottles are kept in each room for disinfecting surfaces.
One employee then pulled the trigger several times to spray the solution on her own grey slacks.
“It will not bleach our clothing,” said the unidentified employee.
Rolden then added, “It won’t do anything to her clothes,” adding that the solution is watered down to the point that it is harmless. She said only one tablespoon of bleach is added for each gallon of water, so she indicated that none of her spray bottles could have caused the extensive damage to the child’s shirt that was reported to state investigators.
While the mother said she was fired on her birthday -- the same day that she threatened to notify state investigators herself -- Roldan said it’s a matter of a disgruntled employee only calling the state after she had been fired.
“This was taken care of,” Roldan said, adding that the mother was aware of the bleach episode from the start.
“This parent, who also worked here, was OK until she got fired,” Roldan said.
She said her day care has yet to be contacted by either state agency about this episode, but she said the entire ordeal was documented and the paperwork preserved.
When asked about claims from the mother that she was only fired because she pushed the issue of her son being sprayed, Roldan answered, “No, that is not the reason why she got fired, or got dismissed from employment. So that is all that we will say on that.”