Early Childhood Center subject of investigation
By Lisa Brody
A special investigation into the Early Childhood Center (ECC) at The Community House in Birmingham was conducted by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) following complaints in July 2020 by a staffer that other staffers were acting aggressively and inappropriately against babies and toddlers left in their care, and when the then-director of the ECC, Melissa Rejc, was alerted of the behavior, she did not take any appropriate action.
Violations were established in three separate areas: for violating staff, volunteer requirements, that all staff shall provide appropriate care and supervision of children at all times; for not reporting allegations of inappropriate contact by a childcare worker against a child to parents or LARA; and for not providing adequate quiet activities for a child who did not want to sleep during rest period.
A corrective action plan has been implemented, following approval by LARA, and the child care center is now operating under a provisional child care license. The Community House (TCH) anticipates receiving its regular operational child care license in August.
“It's awful,” said William Seklar, CEO and President of The Community House. “We take it – I take it – very seriously. We've taken swift action based on fact (after receiving the report a month ago). I'm confident we've taken appropriate action.”
According to a release from TCH, “The investigation was initiated in response to an anonymous allegation by a former employee. The allegations were investigated, a report was drafted and the investigation was closed. The Community House was not notified by LARA when the final report was published, nor were we permitted to discuss the investigation. The investigation concluded there was not a violation of abuse or neglect.
“We are extremely troubled by the allegations outlined in the recent LARA report and take them very seriously. The Early Childhood Center's goal is to provide a safe, friendly and nurturing program for all children. We have a zero-tolerance policy as it relates to any claims of abuse or neglect. As soon as we learned of these allegations, we took swift action to address the situation, including removing all staff cited in the report.”
According to the partially redacted reports on LARA's website, on July 24, 2020, “the child care licensing division received a complaint alleging that “right before COVID,” child care staff member 1 (CCSM 1) was throwing babies across the floor and into cribs. She would shove pacifiers in their faces to try to get them to “shut up.” The toddler staff member saw this, as well as the other infant staff member in the room. The other infant staff member reported it to the boss [Melissa Rejc] who said she would keep an eye on CCSM 1 but did not fire her. The staff member who reported CCSM 1 because of it. Afterwards, CCSM 1 was more careful but is still swearing at the infants and shoving plates in their faces.”
In the report, the inspector said they were assigned the case on December 3, 2020, and made an unannounced visit on December 16, following another inspector who had visited on July 27 and interviewed CCSM 1, who admitted being frustrated, but denied hurting, yelling, or swearing at the children. Other child care workers told the inspector they had seen the accused individual “call an infant a 'fat bitch,' and has told the infants to 'Shut the fuck up,' and has shoved pacifiers into babies’ mouths and has shaken them.” Another child care worker concurred, but said she “never saw marks or signs of injury on the infants. I asked her why she did not report these incidents to Children’s Protective Services. She said she told the lead caregiver about it because management only wanted to meet with the lead caregivers, and she believed she was following the chain of command.”
Another caregiver once saw the accused caregiver bounce a child in an infant seat by pressing on his face, and heard her say things like, “I want to punch all these fucking kids in the face,” and “You’re so fucking annoying,” and “I really wish you’d shut the fuck up.” She documented her concerns and gave them to Melissa Rejc. She also spoke to Rejc about her concerns two or three times in November or December 2019. She went into Rejc’s office and closed the door. She said Rejc was too emotional to discuss it with her. “
The LARA investigator reported that Rejc said no one had ever told her CCSM 1 was rough with infants and children, or swore. When shown handwritten notes and reports of the complaints, Rejc responded that she did not report allegations to LARA or parents because there were no injuries or physical mistreatment, and “now understands that any allegation of inappropriate contact must be reported regardless of her assessment of the allegation.”
While Seklar would not directly confirm, it is believed that Rejc is no longer employed by TCH.