Hopkinsville First United Methodist Church Day Care received a scathing inspection from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services last month, leading to the day care being closed for the past week.

According to an inspection report sent to the New Era Tuesday evening, the local Division of Regulated Child Care conducted a regulatory compliance inspection of the church day care June 24 and classified the day care Not In Compliance for supervision, general administration, posted documentation and director requirements.

A letter to the day care's director Cynthia Dougherty dated June 28 states "failure to comply with minimum licensure standards" and lists each violation in detail in a Statement of Deficiencies. Issues included an employee using a cellphone during rest time, a child being out of the employee's scope of vision behind a wall, using the Little Chapel area of the church without it being licensed for the day care and the director physically disciplining two children.

The Rev. Jeff Calhoun, director of modern worship and adult discipleship at the church, said the day care has been under close watch from the division since a Hopkinsville Police Department investigation in January led to former employee Allison Simpson, 23, being charged with two counts of first-degree wanton endangerment and one count of second-degree criminal abuse of a victim under the age of 12.

Since then, Calhoun said the day care has been investigated by the Division of Regulated Child Care in January and in June.

"They did a temporary suspension and required us to provide a plan of correction," Calhoun said. "The consequence is that our license was temporarily suspended. We've been closed four days last week and this is the third day this week. They lifted the suspension back today. ... They're holding our feet to the fire, and they should, and we welcome it."

A plan outlining the proposed methods of correction for each violation in the June report was due to the division no later than Monday. The plan of corrections was submitted Saturday, according to the report, and the day care is set to reopen today after the division reinstated their license Wednesday, Calhoun said.

The inspection report

The First United Methodist Church Day Care, 1305 S. Main St., was inspected from 1:45 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 24, according to the report. Thirty-seven children were present that day and surveillance video footage since June 20 was reviewed.

Based on the video, the licensee -- the church day care -- was not in compliance with the director requirements for health, safety and comfort, as listed in Kentucky Administrative Regulation 922.

In the video, the director "firmly grabbed two 4-year-old boys by one arm and pulled them towards (herself) to talk with each child," the report states. "There was no volume on the video. However, one caregiver was observed to come out of a classroom to see what was going on in the hallway. In addition, the director used a white envelope to tap one of the two 4-year-old children's mouths because the child continued to talk."

Dougherty did not respond to a message for comment; however, Calhoun said Dougherty is still the director and received a written reprimand on her employee record. Dougherty was also required to report to the Division of Regulated Child Care her exact interaction with both children.

In the report, Dougherty said she used her hand to "flick" the left ear of the same 4-year-old child when the child continued to talk and make mouth noises in the Little Chapel area.

"The director also placed her left foot/shoe on the back of both calves of the same 4-year-old child's legs because the child continued to move while kneeling in front of an adult-size chair during 'thinking time' in the Little Chapel," the report continues.

A review of the center's discipline policy of the employee handbook states, "Under no circumstances are children at First United Methodist Church Daycare disciplined with corporal punishment (physical), verbal abuse, humiliation or withholding of food or toys."

Calhoun said although Dougherty was not fired that doesn't mean the church stands behind how she handled the situation.

"The thing that everybody needs to understand is that it was absolutely and totally unacceptable," he said. "It was unprofessional and she demonstrated poor judgment, but based on what I've been seeing over the four months that she's been there is it was an absolute aberration, and neither of those children were harmed or in danger. Our standards have been raised even more, and we've put more safeguards in, and we don't anticipate anything but excellence."

Calhoun said the church is increasing the level of monitoring and has revamped its discipline policy. The inspection report was provided to parents to review and the new discipline standards are included.

"We are beyond transparent and communicative," he said. "We're installing more camera coverage, and there's not an inch of the church that won't be under surveillance. We will never have a child in an isolated discipline scenario."

Kentucky Cares health and safety coaches are also onsite, he said.

"Kentucky Cares has health and safety coaches whose job it is to be available to day cares for training and resources," Calhoun said. "It's a state specialist to observe and help day care centers run better and be compliant. They've been helping us process the notices of deficiencies and correct that since January. Kentucky Cares will continue to be there, and they've increased their staff so they will be more available to us. They've been invaluable."

The director's past

Dougherty, a former assistant principal at Hopkinsville High School, was hired as the First United Methodist Day Care director in January, according to a post on the church Facebook page. Social media users commented on the post that they were happy about Dougherty getting the position.

Calhoun said Dougherty came in when the day care was cited for 38 deficiencies in January.

"I think she is outstanding and she's taken on a job that no one would want to take on, and she's met it with incredible excellence," he said. "She has been doing phenomenal work, and I'm not the only one who thinks that and sees that."

About why she is still the director, Calhoun said, "It's been feedback from parents and the Kentucky Cares health and safety coaches that have been meeting with her and training her, and they have been very, very positive about her performance and what they see in the changes she's making. I work closely and I'm observing what's going on on a daily basis in the day care. She's made huge strides in changing the culture of the day care and raising the standards. She has been fantastic."

A New Era article in 2007 reported that Dougherty used physical force to remove cell phones from two high-school students who wouldn't hand over the devices on a school bus. Video footage of the incident was posted on the New Era website, but it is no longer available.

According to the article, both students' parents felt the cell phone confiscation by Dougherty was handled "too roughly" and caused several injuries.

An accompanying photo shows cuts on the hand of Natasha Jackson, a junior at the time, who alleged that the injuries came from Dougherty attempting the pry the cell phone from her hand because she broke the school's cell phone use policy. Another student, Justin Young, a senior at the time, recorded the incident on his cell phone and said in that article that Dougherty "jerked his arm as if to pull him out of his seat" for recording what happened.

Two weeks later, Dougherty was reassigned to work at the district's alternative school, the article states. The superintendent at the time Dr. Bob Lovingood never said if the reassignment was due to the recorded incident.

Calhoun said the day care has not experienced Dougherty in that manner and was not aware of any prior discipline complaints.

"If what happened in January hadn't happened, and if we hadn't been what we've been for 20 years, which is a day care without incidence, what happened with those two 4-year-olds wouldn't have risen to the level that it rose to," Calhoun said. "Because we're under this directed plan of correction, a small thing becomes a big thing."

Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or zalleyne@kentuckynewera.com.

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