Kansas intends to suspend and penalize Shawnee daycare following FOX4 investigation

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SHAWNEE, Kan. — The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports it intends to suspend a Shawnee daycare’s license. This comes after reporting over the past month by FOX4’s Sherae Honeycutt.

Former clients and employees are speaking out about the state’s administrative order.

KDHE reports there are a number of reasons it intends to pull Happy Tots’ license. The administrative order questions the center’s quality of care.

While the owners did reply to multiple attempts to respond — families and former employees say they aren’t surprised by the development, and hope to see the suspension become a termination.

The daycare was previously an in-home facility and moved into a larger location near K-7 and Johnson Drive. According to the State of Kansas, since January they’ve had five compliance checks at the center and four complaint investigations.

Throughout October, families and employees came forward with concerns about the daycare.

“I continued sending my daughter there after knowing something was not right. Having that regret as a mom, it sucks,” mom Devyn Boehm said.

“I went home crying every day. I didn’t want to be there. I can only imagine how my teachers felt.”

Alicia Gossett, former Happy Tots director

“I had five infants by myself. I was the only teacher. I needed help. I didn’t get the help I really needed. There was nothing I could do,” former employee Angel Martin said.

Now, the State of Kansas is listening. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued an administrative order on Thursday. It intends to suspend and penalize the daycare for it’s child care practices, violating the terms of their license, environmental conditions, hazards being accessible, not having the proper ratio of staff to children, and having unqualified staff.

“The daycare industry, like every other industry right now, is suffering from severe shortages of qualified employees.  Our daycare is no exception to that.  We have asked some employees to work extra hours, in order to assist with keeping our KDHE required teacher to child ratios and pay them overtime for their work.”

Previous statement from Happy Tots Daycare Center

Owners previously said there is “no evidence” of employees yelling at children or diapers going unchanged. They also said they’ve staid in ratio. However, in May the state of Kansas says they found nine infants in a room that should hold only six. In March, there were five in a room that should have three.

One mom who had two of her children at the facility this year says she is glad to see the state stepping in and holding the owners accountable.

“I think it’s great. I hate that it takes so much to get to that point, but I’m glad that it’s happening,” she said.

She said she pulled both of her children out of the daycare after she experienced some concerning incidents where she witnessed her children being neglected through the daycare’s live camera system.

“I was seeing my kid just sitting there crying, and just by herself with all these babies who weren’t being taken care of,” she said. “There were always seven or eight babies with just two staff and kids just sitting in their chairs. Multiple kids crying.”

She said she would see her child being left for hours with no human contact.

“Every day sending my kids there I just felt horrible. Just the guilt dropping my kids off somewhere I didn’t think they were safe. It was awful,” the mom said.

She pulled her children out of the daycare due to safety concerns and said the daycare refused to offer her a refund initially. She was able to finally get some of her money back for time she paid for but her child did not attend. The owners of Happy Tots did not respond to multiple attempts to contact them about these claims.

Through KDHE compliance investigations they reported two concerning incidents at the daycare in the past year.

In January, an inspector found through video footage a staff member grabbed a child’s hair pulling their hair back and called them a brat. The staff member then allegedly walked up to a child and inches away from their face used a “frightening tone” to tell the child “you hear me, you’re going to lay in your cot” while the child cried.

In May, the state says a staff member “did not demonstrate sound judgement and understanding of children” when they allegedly to the child’s mother who also worked at the facility that their child is a “dick.”

Haily Cannon and Tori Decavele both worked at Happy Tots. Cannon never worked in a daycare before, and says she received no training. According to KDHE for a person to work in a daycare they must “have an understanding of children and complete first aid, recognition of symptoms of illness, child abuse and neglect and other child care job related training.”

“The first daycare I’ve ever worked at and you just throw me in a room full of kids. Just guessing what I’m supposed to do,” Cannon said. “The first day was left in a room with kids and I should have been my very first day and I was written up by state for that.”

FOX4 previously spoke with Decavele about working at Happy Tots. She claimed the center was consistently out of ratio and that the owner attempted to have her work with children when she was sick.

“We saw your story about the parents. We were in awe. That’s so sad it’s a deep problem. It’s so much more than what I thought it was,” Decavele said.

Previously the owners of Happy Tots claimed Decavele reported them to the state on a Friday and then intentionally didn’t show up to work on a Monday to create a ratio issue. Decavele disputed this.

Cannon says she only worked at Happy Tots for around four days. She says during her time there she worked ten to twelve hour work days with no breaks. She says on her first day she got her period at work and her supervisor would not allow her to go to a nearby drugstore for care.

“I needed to go home to clean myself and they would not let me,” Cannon said. “Not one day of working ten plus hour days I did not get a break. Not one.”

Both women say the owner of Happy Tots shorted them each around $300 dollars from their final checks, along with charging them for a Red Cross CPR class the business originally paid for.

“Why take money from people that worked hard for you every day. Didn’t take breaks for you every day. Came in at six thirty in the morning for you,” Decavele said. “It got to the point that we had to go to the daycare and knock on the door and ask for our paystubs.”

Both women filed claims with the Kansas Department of Labor about their lost wages, and hope the state helps them get the money they say they are owed. The owners of Happy Tots did not respond to multiple attempts to reach them regarding the women’s alleged lost wages.

“I want to see action taken by the state and I’m happy to see parents are saying something now too because they had a feeling something was going on, but they needed clarification and I guess we’re giving that to them,” Cannon said.

“Like nearly every other daycare facility, we are hurting for employees/teachers. However safety of the children comes first and we do not compromise that.”

Previous statement from Happy Tots Daycare Center

Happy Tots previously claimed many of their recent employees have left without notice or warning. Some have told FOX4 that is inaccurate and others said they left without notice due to safety concerns or due to poor working conditions.

FOX4 reached out to the owner of Happy Tots by phone, email, and in person at their place of business. They did not respond. FOX4 has offered numerous attempts for them to have their perspective included in reporting on their business. KDHE reports they are awaiting a possible appeal in regards to it’s intention to suspend their business license.

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