OLYMPIA - The state Department of Early Learning has placed the Olympia Early Learning Center's McPhee Road site on its "do not refer" list after it received a complaint that the center failed to report an allegation of abuse at the school.
But a Department of Early Learning spokeswoman said Wednesday the complaint that triggered the “do not refer” status was not related to the criminal investigation that led to the arrest of a former assistant teacher at the McPhee Road center for allegedly sexually abusing a 5-year-old male pupil in the boy’s home.
Department of Early Learning spokeswoman Elizabeth Winter said she could not discuss the circumstances of the separate complaint that led to the “do not refer” order.
Olympia Early Learning Center Executive Director Steve Olson said late Wednesday afternoon that the allegation that the OELC failed to report a separate incident of abuse in a timely manner is untrue.
“The reporting was in fact done within a timely 48 hours,” Olson said.
The Washington Administrative Code requires child care workers to report immediately any instance in which there is reason to suspect that a child has suffered abuse. An allegation of child abuse is defined as “physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or maltreatment, exploitation or child fatality,” according to the state Department of Social and Health Services,
The McPhee Road site was placed on the department’s “do not refer” list on Jan. 31, according to Winter.
Olson said Wednesday that he could not discuss the details of any potential investigation because of confidentiality rules.
“My comment is it’s standard operating procedure for the Department of Early Learning to place an entity on a ‘do not refer’ list when there’s any investigation, until either a resolution or until no enforcement action is necessary,” Olson said.
In the case unrelated to the “do not refer” order, a former assistant teacher at the McPhee Road site, Elisha Tabor, was arrested Feb. 3 on suspicion of molesting and raping a 5-year-old male pupil at the child’s home.
Tabor, 20, was being held at the Thurston County Jail on suspicion of first-degree child rape and first-degree child molestation. Tabor had worked at the McPhee Road site on Olympia’s west side from May 2008 until a couple of weeks ago.
Olson said “to the best of my knowledge” the staff also acted appropriately when allegations of Tabor’s sexual abuse of the pupil came to light. “We go beyond the required licensing standards with respect to making staff aware of their responsibilities,” he said.
According to court papers, Tabor has admitted raping and molesting a 5-year-old boy while acting as his live-in babysitter. Tabor met the boy while working at the Early Learning Center, where the boy was a pupil, court papers state. Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Elwin has said that the sheriff’s investigation has not uncovered any evidence that anything inappropriate occurred between a teacher and a pupil at the school.
Olympia police detectives said Wednesday that there is no ongoing criminal investigation of any kind at either of the Olympia Learning Center’s sites – on McPhee Road and downtown on Capitol Way.
Winter said that there is a notification on the DEL’s website that the Olympia Early Learning Center’s McPhee Road location is on its “do not refer” list. Winter added that the department’s partners in the nonprofit sector also are aware of the “do not refer” designation.
“Any parent that called asking for child care would not be referred to that facility,” she said.
DEL is conducting an inspection of the Early Learning Center’s McPhee Road school, and there is an ongoing investigation there by Child Protective Services, Winter said.
Winter said DEL can suspend or revoke a child care facility’s license to operate if it finds health and safety violations. She added that state funding to child care agencies also can be revoked due to health and safety violations. Winter emphasized that DEL takes every complaint seriously, but also wants to be fair to the facilities that it inspects after a complaint.
“Parents have to trust that when a child care center has a license, that it’s a safe place for your kids,” she said. “But centers also have to trust that they’re being investigated fairly.”
Since 2005, there have been six “valid complaints” at the Early Learning Center’s McPhee Road location, Winter said. Three of those valid complaints focused on the center’s “facility environment,” and include allegations “of health or safety hazards in the facility or on the property,” according to DEL’s website. Facility environment complaints also can include allegations of a “lack of toys and equipment” at a child care center.
The three “facility environment” complaints at the McPhee Road facility were resolved in 2007 and 2008, according to the website.
Another valid complaint at the McPhee Road site was a “program” complaint, according to the website. A “program” complaint concerns a “failure to provide required program components.” Two valid issues involving “program” complaints were resolved in 2009, according to DEL’s website.
Three “valid issues” regarding complaints about health or sanitation at the Olympia Early Learning Center were resolved in 2008, according to the DEL website.
The Olympia Early Learning Center has had a license with the state at least since January 1992, when DEL started keeping electronic records, Winter said. DEL staff members say the center may have been licensed even before that, according to Winter. The McPhee Road location is licensed for 79 children, ranging between one month and 6 years old.
The Olympian has obtained several letters that were sent by the Early Learning Center’s administration to staff members and parents during the criminal investigation of Tabor. In a Jan. 26 letter, Olson reminded staff members of OELC’s “confidentiality policies regarding family/parent information, classroom information, your co-workers information and the organization’s information.”
Olson’s Jan. 26 letter concludes by noting that “effective immediately, any breach of confidentiality in these areas, or any inappropriate information, opinions or comments found on any social media networks will be cause for disciplinary action up to and including possible termination of your employment at OELC.”
None of the OELC letters to parents that were obtained by The Olympian mentions the nature of the criminal allegations against Tabor.
Olson stood by the OELC’s letters to parents and staff. He said that CPS requires that OELC not disclose the nature of allegations against its staff, even when the allegations are supported by an arrest on suspicion of felony sex crimes, as is the case with Tabor.
Olson said the OELC is “not trying to cover anything up,” and added, “these are the rules we have to live by.”
Anyone concerned about abuse, neglect or unsanitary conditions at a child care facility in Washington can call DSHS hotline at 1-866-363-4276, Winter said.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org