OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (WDAF) — A mother and former employee of an Overland Park day care center said she witnessed abuse. She and others say they saw the abuse happen at the hands of not only teachers but other children.
They said it happened at the Learning Experience on 133rd Street and Pflumm Road in Overland Park. Police are investigating but no charges have been filed at this time.
Parents and one former employee told WDAF-TV what happened to their children was a learning experience for them as well.
Driving by the Learning Experience you’ll see bright and cheerful letters reading “Happy happens here.” It’s a message that drew in Logan Harter and Eric Covington, parents of two-year-old Brenton Covington.
“The first couple months were absolutely amazing,” Harter said.
Then the director and several employees quit. Harter said when she brought her son home on August 25, she was in shock.
“I noticed that he had feces coming out of his diaper pretty bad. Not only was it coming out of his diaper – it was dry. He had been sitting in it for quite a while. It took me a while to even be able to get all of it off,” Harter said.
She said the diaper rash was welted. It covered the inside of his legs along with the rest of his diapered area. Then she noticed the bruise on his leg.
“I went directly to the police department. I filed a child abuse complaint against that facility,” Harter said.
She’s not the only one. Overland Park Police told FOX4 they have two recent reports filed claiming child abuse and neglect for the Learning Experience. Brenton’s dad was beside himself.
“So many things running through my head about how many things could be going bad with all these other kids,” Covington said.
Gracie Ford is three years old. Her mom, Tayler Palmisano, said Gracie started coming home with bruises and said her daughter couldn’t or wouldn’t tell her how she got them.
“She would tell me she could not tell me. She would say, ‘Mommy, I cannot tell you.’ I asked her why and she said, ‘Because they told me not to,'” Palmisano said.
What made it worse — Palmisano worked at the Learning Experience. She said it was happening to her daughter feet away in another room and no one would tell her what happened. She felt her daughter was coached on what to say if someone commented on her bruises or scratches.
Palmisano said she was hired at the Learning Experience back in August. She has a background and degree in education, but no experience working in a child care center. She says they offered her the job because she knew someone who worked there. She says they offered her a significant discount in day care costs for working at the Learning Center.
“I didn’t know what the interview process is, because I didn’t an interview. I went in and filled out paperwork on a Friday, and that next Monday I had started working. They just threw me into a classroom,” Palmisano said.
WDAF checked on inspection records through the state of Kansas. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment cited the center four times in the past year for failing to have proper staffing and updated records to outline the required training for their employees.
Palmisano said the lack of training showed. After Harter filed her police report, Palmisano said they were visited by the state, and she told them about her hiring process. She says there was no training she went through for the position and is unclear if anyone did a background check on her.
“Anywhere from holding them down getting their diaper changed to being just rough if they didn’t want to take a nap at that time,” Palmisano said. “I felt like they were leaning more towards the abusive side. More leaning towards the aggressive side. These kids are barely two years old if that and they’re being forced to lay on beds, and they’re being held down when they need their diapers changed.”
The former employee said Harter’s concern about diaper changing was well warranted, and her son wasn’t the only one who went untended to.
Palmisano said she tried to step up and change diapers of children who weren’t under her care.
“One of the teachers when I first started told me they have a diaper changing schedule and that’s what they stick to. It didn’t really matter if they needed a diaper change in between. They stuck to their schedule,” Palmisano said. “Lot of them putting their hands in their diapers, tugging at their pants. You could tell that they knew their diaper needed to be changed and that it wasn’t being done. A lot of the teachers there just didn’t pay attention to the signs they were giving them.”
“I was angry. I was sad. Sad most of all for my son. Because I’m not the one that has to deal with this,” Harter said.
Palmisano said she consistently reported concerning behavior to her superiors and the owner of the center, but her concerns went unanswered. She quit on Wednesday when she says she saw other children assaulting her daughter and an instructor didn’t intervene.
“I witnessed her get kicked in the stomach three times by two different kids, and her teacher laughed it off and said, ‘Kids are going to be kids. What do you want me to do?'” Palmisano said. “It has just baffled me. I have always been nervous to send my child to day care. It’s always been a fear of mine. It’s always been something I knew I would have to do. I honestly thought that I found a perfect fit for Gracie and it showed me it wasn’t a fit for anybody.”
Both women said they believe if the center isn’t safe the doors should be closed.
“What happened is totally unacceptable, and for the other teachers to know about this and not say anything as a mandated reporter infuriates me,” Harter said.
“It’s pocket change to them. It’s money. As long as they’re getting a paycheck, as long as families are paying them, they don’t care,” Palmisano said.
Palmisano and Harter both said the center has cameras that parents and employees can monitor, but the business does not record the feed.
WDAF spoke with the director for the Learning Experience which is a franchise across the United States. She told WDAF she was a relatively new hire. The owner directed the station to their corporate office out of state. WDAF had not heard back from the Learning Experience’s corporate office at the time of this article.