Judge rules in favor of Kindertown | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Judge rules in favor of Kindertown

Adam Jensen
Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily TribuneMaria Barrows-Crist stands outside her home on Friday. The Kindertown owner said she was holding a garage sale to help pay for legal fees related to a battle with the California Department of Social Services over her license.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Embattled South Lake Tahoe preschool and infant center Kindertown will remain open following a Thursday ruling by El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Steven Bailey.

In his decision, Bailey found incidents reported at the facility since 2003 do not justify the revocation of owner Maria Barrows-Crist’s license to operate. The incidents do not represent the “serious and chronic” violations of regulations that would allow the state Department of Social Services to take away Barrows-Crist’s license, according to the decision.

Bailey’s ruling reverses an August 2009 decision by Administrative Law Judge Rebecca Westmore that would have shuttered the preschool.

“I’m doing great,” Barrows-Crist said on Thursday, adding that Bailey’s decision came as a big relief.

“I was so scared they would slap a ‘closed’ sign on my door,” Barrows-Crist said. She thanked everyone who had supported her during the more than year-long battle.

Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for Social Services, said she was unable to comment on Bailey’s decision on Friday because staff with knowledge of the case were furloughed for the day.

Lopez said she would be able to respond to the decision on Monday.

Social Services’ contention that Barrows-Crist’s daughter, Adrienne Crist, cared for children at Kindertown while under the influence of marijuana was the most serious of the allegations, according to Bailey.

But there was not enough evidence presented during hearings in May and July 2009 to prove that Crist was ever under the influence while working with children at the facility, Bailey said.

“The evidence presented here, even when weighed in a manner favorable to the Department, does not establish a preponderance of the evidence that any individual was under the influence of drugs or alcohol while caring for children in the facility,” Bailey said in the decision.

“Even assuming that a staff member showed up to work intoxicated and was then sent home (an event this Court finds to be unlikely), a violation of the regulations had not occurred,” Bailey added.

Other incidents Social Services used a basis to seek revocation of Barrows-Crist’s license included a child having an allergic reaction after being given a peanut butter snack, a child receiving small burn from cooking food, parents alleging they were not properly informed of their child’s whereabouts and the facility’s fence being slightly less than a foot shorter than required.

Barrows-Crist did not violate regulations during her response to the allergic reaction or fencing issues and acted responsibly during the incidents where parents said they were not properly informed of their child’s whereabouts, Bailey said.

The burn incident was isolated and did not represent serious or chronic problems at the center, Bailey found.

Incidents where staff members and a volunteer did not have the proper paperwork in their personnel files were either misinterpreted by Social Services or were corrected quickly and do not represent serious and chronic violations, according to the decision.

At the end of the ruling, Bailey said he is concerned with Social Services’ response to Barrows-Crist’s challenges to department findings and conclusions.

“Time and time again, the right to disagree with the findings was held as the reason to issue a finding against the licensee,” Bailey said. “This Court holds that this bias against the licensee constitutes an abuse of discretion and constitutes cause to set aside the decision.”

“Finally, little or no weight was allowed to the fact that for some 30 years the licensee had operated successfully in the community without apparent incident,” Bailey added. “Apparently, the agency had little cause for concern for all those years.”

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