A Sherman day care that was cited for 181 safety violations over the past three years recently lost its license and a request for a temporary injunction that would have kept it from being shut down.
Stepping Stones Learning Center, located at 1510 Baker Road in Sherman, was ordered to close by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission earlier this month. The commission's action follows an inspection by that agency on July 18 of last year that led to Stepping Stones being given a corrective action plan.
The Austin American-Statesman reported last December that the Sherman facility had been cited for 181 safety violations and notable infractions included “uncovered electrical outlets, refusing to give children water during snacks, bugs in the bathroom and out-of-control children.” Stepping Stones Director Joann Thomas told the Herald Democrat in December that the center had addressed the issues mentioned in the Statesman's report and was making “progress” in its improvement efforts.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the state's Child Care Licensing division, said in December that Stepping Stones' total number of deficiencies had dropped, but four deficiencies were still cited during a Dec. 4 visit.
In its answer to Stepping Stones' request for a temporary injunction of the shutdown notice, the state said the court should deny Stepping Stones' request “because the childcare operation poses a health and safety risk to children.” The state then said the risks posed were in the three general areas of a pattern of violations, a lack of basic maintenance for safety and poor judgment.
“Stepping Stones has been repeatedly cited for inappropriate discipline and deviating from positive methods of redirection and guidance of the children in care,” the state's response to the injunction request states. “Stepping Stones has also failed to maintain safe childcare ratios, and failed to receive background check results before allowing caregivers access to children in care.”
It also states Stepping Stones has failed to “properly handle child safety in vehicles” and doesn't properly “sanitize equipment” or keep garbage “inaccessible to children.”
“Their history shows Stepping Stones has been unable to provide safe childcare,” the state's response states. “Stepping Stones realizes this and now seeks new management.”
The state agency's answer to the injunction request also states owner Joann Thomas asserted in her motion that a Texas Health and Human Services Commission employee told her she had another 30 days to sell the business. The state said that was not true and even if it were, an employee's statement did not override the written letter Thomas received from the commission.
When the Herald Democrat called Stepping Stones and requested to speak with Thomas for comment Thursday, the woman who came to the phone would not confirm or deny her identity.
“I have retired and the center is up for sale,” the woman said when asked whether the state had shut the center down. “My parents have known that for months that I was retiring.”
The woman then ended the phone call. When the Herald Democrat visited the center Thursday, the doors at the location on Baker Road were locked and the people inside refused to speak with a reporter. Two small children could be seen playing just inside the center's front door but the Herald Democrat could not confirm their relation to anyone inside.
In December, Thomas said the facility, which opened in 2001, served 70 children who ranged in age from infancy to 13 years old, and had 10 staff members providing services. The director said she was satisfied with the pace at which changes were being made and believed parents and families of enrolled children were also pleased.
“They're happy and they're continuing to stay with us,” Thomas said last year. “So, I think we've done a real good job in continuing to get things addressed and done.”
The letter the Texas Health and Human Services Commission sent to Thomas with its notice that it was revoking her permit on March 19 says that since the probation plan was put in place, the center had been inspected an additional 15 times. During those inspections, the letter notes, inspectors found a total of 106 deficiencies.
The communication from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission states 35 of those deficiencies were “high-weighted violations” that represent “significant and immediate risk to children in care.” Of the remaining 71 deficiencies, 58 were classified as “medium high weight.”
The letter states the commission also assessed administrative penalties for four single high-risk deficiencies, including two penalties for background check violations and two for infant safe sleep violations.
“Each penalty indicates a lack of responsibility on your part and a failure to comply with Minimum Standards, rules, or laws applicable to your operation,” the letter says. “You have failed to pay two of your penalties.”