Local daycare centers abruptly close as state investigation looms

Both the Gainesville and Oakwood branches of Little Harvard Learning Center will close permanently on Friday, May 24, a decision that came as a shock to both parents and employees who have been left in the lurch to find new childcare support or new jobs.

Nikki Brown, whose 2-year-old son attends Little Harvard in Oakwood, said the timing has complicated plans for many families like hers.

Today is the last day of school at Gainesville and Hall County public schools, and with summer starting, Brown had planned to enroll her 9-year-old daughter at Little Harvard next week.

“Now, we have two children that we don’t know what we’re going to do with,” she said. “We’ve been calling a few daycares, but it’s hard to find a daycare with room.”

Brown said she and other parents were only informed Thursday morning about the imminent closing, and it came in a typed letter from the owner, Ray Saint-Amour.

“Please understand that this was a very hard decision for us to make,” he wrote. “However, it is what we must do at this time.”

Little Harvard’s childcare capacity is capped at 85 children.

“You’re probably talking about 80 kids that have nowhere to go,” Brown said.

Saint-Amour did not return a call from The Times for comment and his letter, shared with The Times, does not elaborate on the reasons for shuttering the daycare centers.

“We’ve not heard from the owner … at all,” Brown said.

Brown said she noticed a state inspector at the daycare center earlier this month, and wondered if the closing was related.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, the licensing agency for daycares like Little Harvard, is currently investigating allegations regarding improper “supervision and watchful oversight” at the Gainesville branch located on Crescent Drive.

And state inspections this spring, detailed in publicly available reports, show that several improvements needed to be made to hazardous playgrounds and unsanitary bathrooms to meet safety and health regulations.

Additionally, staff-to-child ratios were not meeting industry standards.

“It’s just kind of a big coincidence that all this has happened and we’re not being notified why,” Brown said. “Parents deserve to know why this happened and why warning was not given. There are many single parents that depend on this daycare.”

It is unclear, however, if the recent inspections and investigation (which remains open) prompted the closures.

“This appears to be a voluntary closure on the part of the owner, not in response to any action on the part of our agency,” Reg Griffin, a spokesman with the Department of Early Care and Learning, told The Times in an email. “Our investigation … from May 8 is still an open investigation and no actions would have been issued … at this time.”

The state agency inspects all licensed child-care programs twice annually, “in addition to any complaints we may receive,” Griffin said.

“Our consultant called and spoke with the director of the Gainesville location who said the owner called a management meeting Wednesday night (May 22) with the directors and assistant directors,” Griffin added. “(The owner) stated that they would be closing both locations Friday and then handed the directors a letter for the parents and then a letter for the staff to hand out (Thursday).”

Brown said it’s not just parents and children impacted by the closure.

“I feel really bad for the workers, too,” Brown said. “I know they’ve been working overtime.”

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