Jacqueline Pean’s 18-month-old son attended a home day care for around six days before he inhaled a kernel of hard feed corn the owner encouraged him to play with on Oct. 4, 2017.
Doctors surgically removed it from his lungs about a week later.
Mitchell and Mikayla Stoll’s 9-month-old baby attended his day care for just seven days before he came home bruised and scratched on April 4, 2017. He didn’t have any marks on his delicate skin when Mikayla Stoll dropped him off at the center that morning.
They appeared after a staff member reportedly yanked the baby off of the floor.
After the injuries both sets of parents immediately stopped using the Wichita day cares because they didn’t think their children were safe.
In late September, both filed lawsuits allegedly extreme negligence by the caregivers they once trusted to watch over their kids.
“Every child deserves to be safe at a day care and parents deserve the peace of mind to know that their children are safe when they drop them off,” said Richard James, a Wichita attorney representing the Stolls in their lawsuit against KinderCare Learning Centers, which operates at 8722 W. Thurman, near 13th and Tyler in Wichita.
“It comes down to the quality of employees that these daycare providers hire, how they train them and how they’re going to enforce the regulations for proper childcare.”
A spokeswoman for KinderCare Education LLC, which runs the Wichita KinderCare center on Thurman, declined to comment on the Stolls’ allegations but told The Eagle by e-mail that the company was aware of the lawsuit.
“The safety and well-being of the children in our care is one of our highest priorities at KinderCare. All of our teachers receive ongoing training to ensure that all children in our care remain healthy, happy and safe,” the company’s senior communications coordinator Emily Snyder said.
The other day care being sued is Snails and Puppy Dog Tails Daycare. Its owner, Elizabeth West, ran it out of her west Wichita home for a few years before closing it down on Aug. 1.
The 18-month-old’s mother “trusted them and felt good about it (the daycare) after visiting,” one of her attorneys, Troy Gott, said. He said she was given a glowing recommendation by a relative of the day care’s owner who she knew.
“If she ever had any reservation she wouldn’t have placed the kids there to begin with,” Gott said.
In a phone interview with The Eagle, West, the Snails and Puppy Dog Tails Daycare owner, denied that giving Pean’s 18-month-old son access to feed corn meant for birds and wild animals was wrong.
“That feed corn is offered at a lot of day care centers,” she said. “It’s sensory experience” for children. “It’s just a little crazy for them to presume that I was negligent when I did everything I could” to take it away from the boy after he put it in his mouth.
The lawsuits against KinderCare and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails aren’t the only court documents filed in Sedgwick County District Court last month that accuse a Wichita day care of negligence.
Matt and Krystin Olson asked a judge on Sept. 27 to approve a settlement they reached with New Song Academy over a head injury their 10-month-old received on July 25, 2016, when the child “fell or was dropped” at the day care center, 6868 E. 32nd St. North, near K-96 and Woodlawn.
A court document asking for the approval says the baby “sustained physical injuries of less than $75,000” and that the “accident was caused by New Song’s negligence.” But it did not disclose the proposed settlement amount or specifics about how the child was harmed.
Neither the Olsons’ attorney nor an attorney representing New Song Academy returned messages from The Eagle seeking comment.
The parents of the infant and toddler hurt at KinderCare and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails Daycare each are seeking more than $75,000 in damages and asking for a jury trial, according to court records.
Number of injured kids in Kansas unclear
It’s unclear exactly how many children are hurt at Kansas day cares each year because current regulations don’t require injuries to be reported to the state unless they result in a death.
Twenty-six children died in Kansas childcare homes and centers between 2010 and 2016, according to the latest annual report from the state’s Child Death Review Board.
Most were infants under age 1 placed in unsafe sleeping situations, the report says.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Theresa Freed said the state learns about most of the child injuries that require medical attention, though, because parents tend to file complaints that KDHE has to investigate.
All three of the day cares named in the lawsuits had complaints substantiated by KDHE in the past three years.
Licensed and group day care homes, child care centers and preschools are required by law to report illnesses and injuries that require medical attention immediately to parents, but not to the state, Freed said.
Injuries and illnesses that kill a child have to be reported to the county health department of KDHE by the next working day.
Between Jan. 1, 2012, and Oct. 1 of this year, KDHE received a total of 340 reports of injuries at Kansas day cares, Freed said.
Forty-seven of those occurred in 2016, the year the Olsons’ 10-month-old received the head injury.
In 2017, when Pean’s toddler swallowed the feed corn and the Stolls’ infant was bruised, there were 66.
So far this year, there have been 41.
Bruises and fingernail marks
The morning that Mikayla Stoll dropped her 9-month-old son off at KinderCare’s Thurman Street address so she could go to work, he was in perfect condition.
She wasn’t expecting the phone call that came from the day care that afternoon.
The Kindercare supervisor who called told her staff members had noticed bruising on her baby’s body at about 1 p.m.
Fearing possible injury, Stoll and her husband took their baby to Wesley Medical Center to get looked over.
Later they learned that two KinderCare staff members had been caring for their son when one snatched him from the floor.
The boy, referred to in the lawsuit by his initials J.S., had only been attending the day care for a week at the time.
“The boy was lying face down on his stomach and a day care worker in what we believe to be a fit of anger and extremely poor judgment reached down and grabbed the boy by his arms and lifted him up,” the couple’s lawyer, James, said in an interview with The Eagle. The lawsuit describes staff member’s handling of the boy as “violently grab.”
“She left bruising, and there were fingernail marks,” James said. The baby “sustained severe personal injuries” as a result, the suit says.
The Stolls immediately removed J.S. from KinderCare because they didn’t feel it was safe. Mikayla Stoll ended up quitting her job to stay home with her son because the couple “didn’t want to expose him to that type of physical or emotional injury again,” James said.
“The biggest concern that our parents have is the day care simply tried to brush off the injuries and act as if nothing happened instead of, in our opinion, responding and ensuring that this type of aggressions would not occur in the future,” James said. The lawsuit says KinderCare and it’s insurance company have refused to give the Stolls “an accounting of the facts” involving their son’s injuries.
‘Multiple choking hazards’
Jacqueline Pean received a text from her twins’ day care provider just before 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 4, 2017. The kids were fine when they were dropped off at Snails and Puppy Dog Tails earlier that day — about the sixth day her son and his sister had spent at the home day care.
“Your son just gave me a scare,” day care owner Elizabeth West’s text read.
When Pean asked what was wrong, West assured her by text that the boy was OK.
“He is fine, but we were playing with funnels and measuring cups in some feed corn and he shoved some in his mouth,” West wrote next.
“I got most of it out but he did start choking on a piece. He is ok though. I got it out.”
Eight days later the boy, identified in court records by his initials C.P., vomited while he was eating breakfast at home with Pean, suddenly stopped breathing and turned a terrifying shade of blue, Pean’s attorney, Gott, told The Eagle.
Frantic and crying, Pean called 911.
Doctors would later surgically remove a kernel of hard feed corn that had become lodged in C.P.’s bronchial tubes, the delicate passageways that connect a person’s throat to his lungs.
“It took the doctors a while to figure it out so he was intubated (had a tube inserted in his airway) for multiple days,” Gott said, adding: “It wasn’t a small matter.”
Pean’s lawsuit says the boy suffered from collapsed lungs and developed an infection.
Gott said when Pean dropped her children off with West on Oct. 4, she wasn’t told they would be playing with hard corn kernels and didn’t give her permission for that activity.
“When we take kids to day care at this age you don’t expect them to get to play with multiple choking hazards that aren’t meant for human consumption,” he said. “Keep in mind this is animal feed.”
Gott said the boy recovered and appears to be fine now. But he does have internal scarring that may carry long-term risks.
“Your worse nightmare,” Gott said of the case. “The kids did not go back.”
West, in her phone interview with The Eagle, said the boy was already sick with a cough, cold and runny nose when Pean started bringing him to her day care. She argued that Pean would have talked to doctors sooner if she had concerns about the corn.
She said she didn’t let the boy touch the corn again after he put it in his mouth “because he wasn’t mature enough” and that she notified his mother right away.
“I would never intentionally hurt a child,” West said, adding that she closed her day care in August “because I can’t trust people.”
She also said her insurance company offered Pean “a huge settlement” that was refused.
Other day care complaints
The incidents described in the lawsuits and the settlement approval request aren’t the first complaints at the three day cares.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has three years of compliance surveys, complaint surveys and their findings available to search online at all open, licensed child care providers in Kansas. The public can search those records by going to https://khap2.kdhe.state.ks.us/OIDS/.
Information on day cares that are closed can be obtained through a records request to KDHE. You can ask for records by emailing kdhe.KORAOfficer@ks.gov, faxing a request to 785-559-4272 or mailing a request to KDHE KORA Officer, 1000 S.W. Jackson Ste. 560, Topeka, KS 66612.
Blank request forms are available at www.kdheks.gov/open_records.html.
Among substantiated complaints listed on the site at New Song Academy since August 2016 are:
- A 7-month-old fell asleep in a bouncer and wasn’t moved to a crib or playpen as required
- A staff member watching more infants they they were supposed to
- Staff members found sleeping during nap time while children were awake
- A child received an injury that needed medical attention and the center waited to tell the mother about the injury until she picked up her child instead of immediately after it occurred
- The center didn’t adequate supervise to ensure the health, safety and well-being of an infant and that child received a “serious head injury while in care”
- Staff members didn’t have training on safe sleep practices and sudden infant death syndrome or current certification in pediatric first aid and CPR
Among substantiated complaints listed on the site at KinderCare Learning Center since May 2016 are:
- Staff cursed at a 4-year-old and carried the child to the center’s office in a way that left scratches and broken skin on his right side
- Three children were left alone in a bathroom “demonstrating inappropriate behavior to each other” when they were supposed to be supervised by a staff member
- A staff member “did not demonstrate sound judgment, emotional maturity, and understanding of children” when they pulled an infant out of a crawling tunnel by the arms
- Staff watched more infants than they were supposed to
- Children received scratches and bruises that the center couldn’t explain to parents
- KDHE wasn’t notified of a change in the center’s program director and that program director didn’t have current certification for pediatric first aid, CPR or two hours of safe-sleep practices training on file
Snails and Puppy Dog Tails Daycare had one substantiated complaint, KDHE said in response to a records request from the Eagle: A toddler, about a year and a half old, was offered an age-inappropriate activity when he was “allowed to play in (a) sensory table that contained items considered as choke hazards.”
The complaint matches the circumstances described in the lawsuit where Pean’s toddler inhaled the feed corn.