State closes troubled Brooklyn Center day-care center

Risk of harm to children cited as reason for closing Brooklyn Center facility. The rare step reflected imminent dangers, officials said.

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The doors were locked at the Arena Early Learning Center in Brooklyn Center Wednesday. The child care center, with a long history of regulatory problems dating to 2006, was closed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Citing "an imminent risk of harm to children,'' state regulators have shut down a Brooklyn Center child care center with a long history of problems.

The highly unusual enforcement action took effect Wednesday at Arena Early Learning Center, 6415 Brooklyn Blvd., and was announced Thursday by the state Department of Human Services. The center, which opened in 2004, offered daytime and evening care for up to 88 children, from infants through school age.

State documents show the center had a history of violations dating to 2006, but state officials said it was allowed to continue operating under various appeals until a new, unspecified infraction emerged in recent days.

"Where children are placed in imminent risk of harm we must, and will, act quickly to protect them," state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said in a statement.

"We've seen just about every possible violation at this place in recent years,'' said Jerry Kerber, the department's inspector general. "What triggered this is not something new, but the severity of something we'd seen before."

An investigation into conditions at the center is underway and could be completed late next week.

Arena's owners did not respond to telephone and e-mail inquiries Thursday.

The "temporary immediate suspension" is the most serious licensing sanction at the state's disposal and has been exercised only three times in the past 10 years with child care centers, although more frequently with small family-operated child care operations, Kerber said.

The center had been operating while appealing a 2007 license revocation order, which the state based on "numerous and serious" violations. The order was amended in 2010 alleging that the center's owner, Antonio L. Smith, was disqualified from holding a child care center license, under the state's background study law, department documents show.

Multiple allegations

State documents list a string of alleged violations in recent years, including:

• Lax supervision: Within 20 minutes one afternoon, a state investigator saw three children being let off at the center alone, and then being let in a secured door by a staff member who was inside.

• Inadequate staff training to address sudden infant death syndrome and shaken baby syndrome.

• Failure to document staff educational qualifications.

• Unqualified staff members supervising toddlers.

• Photos of children posted on Facebook without written consent from parents.

• Failure to meet federal nutritional guidelines. Water, not milk, was served with lunch.

Kerber said state law allowed the center to continue operating while appealing its license revocation, but that authorities shut it down upon determining that there were imminent risks to children.

"We have issued numerous fines, correction orders and previous conditional licenses to this facility in hopes that it would come into compliance," Kerber said.

Documents also show the state had found Smith unqualified to hold a day-care license, but Kerber said he could not disclose the reason. He said Smith appealed that finding and is expected to appeal the closing. If so, an administrative law judge must hold a hearing within 30 days.

Most of the actions against Arena originated with complaints, Kerber said. He said parents or anyone concerned about a child care center may call the child protection office for that county, or the state's licensing division intake office at 651-431-6600.

Staff writer Jane Friedmann contributed to this report. pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 wolfe@startribune.com • 612-673-7253

NEED HELP FINDING CARE?

Parents who need to find new child care arrangements are being directed to Think Small, a referral agency formerly known as Resources for Child Caring, at www.thinksmall.org or 651-641-0332.

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