Arundel parents back embattled day care

Many don't believe complaints, fight closing

April 08, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Tracy Capel has heard the story that a Cloverleaf Child Development Center employee held Capel's 5-year-old autistic daughter down on a mat with a blanket over her head to try to make her stop crying and go to sleep.

But she doesn't believe it. The Severna Park mother is so convinced it wasn't true that she testified in support of the day care center in Millersville during a hearing to revoke its license.

"They're just wonderful to her," she said at the center recently. "She runs in here every morning."

Capel is among many parents of Cloverleaf's more than 100 children who staunchly defend the center, even as owner Lenora Porzillo fights an administrative law judge's decision last month to revoke its license. Porzillo has filed an appeal in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Despite the numerous violations and complaints - including accusations that staff members hit children or told them to bite each other - the parents depend on the day care center. And they don't see many options if it has to close.

"I've cried. I've been so upset," said Glen Burnie resident Brenda Sprinkle, whose two granddaughters use the center. "The only alternative I have is to quit, and if I quit, what am I going to do, live in a paper bag?"

Capel's daughter, Shelby, is among the 20 percent of children at the center who have special needs; Capel said it's not easy to find day care providers who will take her child. "She's improved since she's been here with her speech," Capel said. "All the teachers look out for her."

Many parents said they don't give credibility to many of the 100 violations and 27 complaints lodged against the center since 1997 regarding supervision and child protection. They side with Porzillo, who calls the complaints lies and hearsay and says that the state shouldn't give credence to those submitted anonymously. She claims many complaints were made by disgruntled employees or parents who owed the center money.

"It's really heartbreaking that people have to resort to lying to hurt the center," Porzillo said. "They're hurting the remaining children, their families and my staff."

Only two families have taken their children out of the center since an administrative law judge upheld the September decision of the state's Child Care Administration to revoke its license. The judge ruled that the center adheres to regulations in a "nonchalant" manner, putting the children's safety and welfare at risk.

But more families have joined the day care since the ruling. Porzillo has applied to keep the center open during the appeals process, maintaining that the center's 28 employees are qualified to run it. The center has been operating for almost a decade and cares for children from 8 weeks to 12 years old.

Sprinkle said she has seen nothing in the six months that her granddaughters, ages 2 and 3, have been at the day care that would lead her believe any of the complaints.

"They scoop them up and love them," Sprinkle said. "This is what I want."

But the complaints offer a strikingly different story: a child hit on the back by an employee, causing a bruise; staff members laughing while a child banged his head on the floor during a tantrum; staffers not properly cleaning a child after she urinated on herself; an employee tripping a child and hitting her in the head with a toy; and staff members hitting children and throwing them on their napping mats.

In her ruling, Judge Georgia Brady of the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings commented on the "desperation" of many of the parents testifying to keep the center open. Several had said they would keep their children in the center even if they knew that an employee hit the children.

Brady said she doubted these parents had heard the full story of citations and complaints.

Kim Dwarshuis said recently that she had been a supporter of the center when her sons, ages 1 and 3, started there in September. The Arbutus mother believed Porzillo when she said that many of the complaints were untrue and even called the Child Care Administration to defend the center.

But then, she said, her sons started to get hurt. Her older son cut his forehead from falling off the playground equipment and got a black eye after fighting with another child. Her younger son hit his nose while sliding down a board. Within two months, her children had at least 12 accident reports between them.

"All of a sudden these things started happening, and I'm like, `wait a minute,'" she said. "I started to put two and two together."

Dwarshuis said she started having to leave her job at least once a week to take her children out of the day care center because they were hurt and twice had to take them to the hospital.

She felt betrayed: "I told [Porzillo], `You totally lied to me because you said all these incidents about kids getting hurt were not true.'"

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