Children were flicked in the head and choked for discipline at a day care center that was closed last year, and six infants kept in an unmonitored room in a cluttered basement are now on nebulizers to treat asthma, according to a state Department of Children and Families report.
Also, some children who were enrolled at Grace's Garden Academy now show signs of distress when they are placed in high chairs, pack-n-plays or shopping cart seats, says the report obtained Monday by The Post-Crescent.
The state agency twice told owner Katherine Rehfeldt over the past 25 months she could not operate a day care center without a license. Rehfeldt told them she was closing the day care, but continued to operate the center as a school, which
isn't required to be licensed under state law.
Grace's Garden Academy, 219 W. Weiland Ave., was closed May 3 2010 by the Appleton Fire Department, which inspected the
facility on a tip forwarded by the department of Children and Families from a woman who complained that she had visited the center three times to check where her child would nap, only to be told each time she could not see the room because children were sleeping in it. [continued below]....
Rehfeldt does not face criminal charges, but one parent said she is hoping to work with other parents who sent children to Grace's to talk about a lawsuit.
Amber McGinley of Appleton said her son was at Grace's from December, and she was unaware, until told by The Post-Crescent, that some children who went to the facility were experiencing health or anxiety problems. McGinley's son is using a nebulizer for treatment of asthma.
"It is very strange we are all having the same problems," McGinley said.
Parents have been unable to compare notes, McGinley said, because they don't have each other's names.
"People don't know each other," she said. "This just blows my mind. Nobody has ever talked to me because I wasn't listed as a parent there.
They never gave out my name."
Fire inspector cites owner Fire inspector Dan Dibbs issued a $390 citation Monday to Rehfeldt for failing to have an inspection before occupancy, and she could still face action by the state for failure to license a day care facility.
Dibbs conducted the inspection in May and found "'floor to ceiling" toys and other items, eight cribs and portable cribs, two bassinettes and two stacked portable cribs. He also found five children in a room with a closed door but without a fire exit and without monitoring.
He said he inspected the basement after Rehfeldt told him it was not used as part of the facility, and after she undercounted the number of children on premise. Reports say up to 37 children attended Grace's.
Dibbs said smoke detectors in the 1,608-square-foot home were not functional.
McGinley said she is "very ticked they are not able to do anything" other than cite Rehfeldt for the code violation.
Her son "was healthy prior to that as far as respiratory, no colds," she said.
"After he went there he was constantly sick."
Rehfeldt did not return a call seeking comment Monday. A second phone number, where she was contacted earlier, is listed as not in service.
The academy, according to its website, offered age-specific programs in fine arts, Tai Chi, rhythm and dance, piano and violin and culinary arts in addition to autism, but officials said those programs did not exist.
Problems crop up in 2008
State inspectors first went to the facility in April 2008.
Erin Mancoske-Anderson, a licensing chief for the Bureau of Regulation and Licensing, told Rehfeldt she needed a license to care for children, but said no children were found at the home when she inspected it May 7, 2008.
She said Rehfeldt accepted that licensing requirement, said parents had been able to find other facilities for the 13 children under her care and said Rehfeldt "is cleaning homes now. She stated she does not have the money for meeting licensing requirements but that she will consider it in the future. She stated she is earning a lot more money cleaning houses."
Department of Children and Families licensing specialist Ruth Sprangers returned to the center in October 2009 after a parent complained there were 10 children under the age of seven at the center, and said parents did not receive any reports on their children.
Rehfeldt said there were three children - her grandchild and two friends - when Sprangers made an unannounced visit. Sprangers later saw another child, and Rehfeldt said her daughter was caring for that one.
She told Rehfeldt the center was not legal if it had four unrelated children and no license, but also became suspicious there were more children around. She said she saw many pairs of shoes, and was told Rehfeldt's granddaughter "loves shoes."
During the inspection, she also said Rehfeldt's daughter walked past the shoes several times, and said she "discreetly removed them and (went) into the kitchen area."
Sprangers returned to the center two hours later after determining there was no listing for Grace's with the state Department of
Public Instruction, and saw five more children.
She told Rehfeldt that having 10 children under age seven in the home was a violation, and issued an order to stop operating the center, warning her a violation carried a penalty of up to $1,000 a day.
Instead of being "welcoming" as she was on the first visit, Sprangers said Rehfeldt now asked for a search warrant. She was
allowed into the center after she said there was a state statute to allow inspectors to enter, and said she would call police for assistance if needed.
Report expresses care concerns Four parents Sprangers contacted said they were happy with the care their children received at
Grace's and told her there were about a dozen children who attended the center.
Rehfeldt told Sprangers "the school" was in the process of moving, and she ultimately moved it temporarily to Mayflower Drive in Grand Chute before returning to the Weiland Avenue location, telling parents that problems at the Weiland Avenue house had been solved.
After the fire department closed the school last month, Sprangers contacted seven parents and offered them help in finding day care facilities.
She said those parents wondered if the basement should be checked for mold and radon since six children are on nebulizers.
"It was also mentioned that children are reportedly being flicked in the head and choked as a form of discipline," she wrote. "It was also noted that children are becoming upset when placed in a highchair, shopping cart or pack-n-play by their parents."
She said that information was forwarded to police and Child Protective Services.