VIRGINIA

Minnieland Academy workers fired after pattern of mental and physical abuse

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WOODBRIDGE, Va. (WJLA) - A pair of employees at a Woodbridge child care center were fired after inspectors uncovered consistent mistreatment of kids under their care, according to Department of Social Services records.

The abuse happened at Minnieland Academy in Woodbridge. Photo: Google Maps

The two unnamed employees were fired from their jobs at Minnieland Academy At The Glen in September after a pattern of abusive and demeaning behavior towards young children, including spraying kids in the face with hoses, forcing them to eat spicy food, encouraging them to hit each other and throwing toddlers onto cots.

The employees are also accused of pushing, in addition to tripping and stepping on toddlers' toes. A state report says they forced kids afraid of water into a pool, then laughed when they cried.

Shannon Schlegel's son Nicholas was in the room managed by the now-fired Minnieland teachers.

"I don't understand how somebody could do that to a child. I don't understand really how it went on for so long," she said.

"I called my husband, and I said, 'Go get our daughter, pull her out of that daycare!'" said another Woodbridge parent who asked not to be identified. She is furious that she learned of this news not from Minnieland, but from the media.

"How dare they not inform us that abuse was being reported in that daycare, how dare they not inform us!" she exclaimed.

The abuse and subsequent firings were first reported by InsideNova.com. Other staff members were also fired or subsequently resigned for not reporting the incidents.

According to records posted to the Virginia Department of Social Service's website, a pattern of both verbal and physical abuse of children at the Prince William Parkway daycare center was uncovered in site visits on Aug. 23 and Sept. 4.

The series of incidents, which happened between February and August, led to the firing of two employees for their actions, which also included covering their faces while they cried and hitting them repeatedly with hard objects.

"They're babies. They can't tell you what's wrong," Traci King, whose daughter was in the toddler class at the facility, said. "They can't defend themselves.

Inspection records indicate a number of incidents where children were subjected to injury, humiliation and mistreatment. Incidents recorded in the reports include:

Staff members not reporting that a child fell and suffered a facial injury in June after falling on a playground
Forcing children to eat "Flaming Hot" Cheetos
The fired staff members telling a toddler that she was "ugly" and "looked like a rat"
Stepping on the toes of toddlers
Picking up children and dropping them onto their cots during sleep periods
Covering the faces of children with coats while they cried
Spraying toddlers with high-powered water hoses and dunking them in water despite displaying fear
Not stopping and actually encouraging children to hit each other

Social Services officials recommended a series of changes to Minnieland Academy's facilities and actions after each reported incident in the lead-up to the termination of both employees. Those included new rules about food, reporting of injuries or accidents and retraining of other employees.

Jay Ross, the father of a boy who has been going to Minnieland Academy for about 4 months, says he's appaled by the findings.

"It's disturbing," Ross said. "Anyone that could do something like that to a little kid, it's crazy."

Meanwhile, King says that parents should have been informed more quickly of the allegations and firings.

"I should have been notified that this was taking place in her room, and not five teachers disappearing without any explanation," she said.

Minnieland Academy officials say that they took quick action on the employees once the extent of the abuse was revealed. Chris Schuster, Minnieland's Chief Operating Officer, wrote, in part:

"The inappropriate behavior of the teachers occurred without management’s knowledge and we reacted quickly once the administration of the center was made aware of the incidents. The teachers were immediately terminated and Child Protective Services and the Division of Licensing were notified. In addition, the individuals who witnessed the acts that gave rise to the violations, but failed to report them to management or CPS, are no longer with the company. Criminal and central registry background checks on all of the individuals involved in the incidents were conducted before they were hired, and no criminal history was indicated."

Minnieland also apologized for what happened, and said it is adding more training and oversight.

Parent Shannon Schlegel believes the academy is making the needed changes and will leave her son Nicholas in -- but the other unidentified mother has pulled out her child for good.

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