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Arena Early Learning Center was closed by the state in January. State officials say children there were at risk of “sudden death.”

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Feb. 15: Brooklyn Center day care facility was 'ticking time bomb'

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE
  • Star Tribune
  • February 14, 2012 - 9:21 PM

A troubled Brooklyn Center day care facility was shut down by state regulators two weeks ago, in part because the owner violated a state order requiring him to avoid unsupervised contact with the children there, the state disclosed Tuesday.

In addition, some of the 88 children served by Arena Early Learning Center were at risk of "sudden infant death" at the hands of untrained staff, according to an investigative report.

"This was more or less a ticking time bomb," said Jerry Kerber, inspector general at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. "We feel fortunate that we were able to act before any children were hurt. Had we not acted, that would have been very likely."

The temporary immediate suspension issued in late January 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.

The state closed the center after finding 24 violations for untrained staff and improper care; the visit was the state's 50th complaint investigation since the center opened in 2004.

Officials tried to close the center in 2007 but owner Antonio L. Smith appealed -- a process Kerber acknowledged Tuesday "took a lot longer than it should have."

Smith's unusual no-contact order took effect after a state background check in 2010 found something that disqualified him from holding a license for a child care center, or even working in one. Kerber said state law prevents him from disclosing what, specifically, turned up in the background check. Smith appealed that finding as well.

This time, however, Smith did not appeal the temporary immediate suspension that closed the center, so it will not reopen, Kerber said.

Multiple violations

State background checks focus largely on criminal convictions, but include other activities that might disqualify someone from working in child care centers, nursing homes, hospitals and other licensed settings, Kerber said.

In the most recent investigation, officials were alarmed to find cribs with loose sheets and one child asleep in a "bouncy seat" with a stuffed animal against its face.

"We have had 11 children die in child care centers in each of the past two years, some from sudden infant death," Kerber said. "This was a real threat. A child could have died."

Other violations, almost all cited numerous times in past investigations, included teachers and aides without proper training, at times half the required staff-to-child ratio, delays in getting background checks on new workers and no assurance of meals or snacks for children.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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