Kindertown at risk of closure |

Kindertown at risk of closure

Parents expressed shock and anger this week about a decision by the state of California that could close a decades-old South Lake Tahoe preschool and infant center next month.

A lawyer representing Kindertown intends to file a motion to reconsider an August decision by Administrative Law Judge Rebecca Westmore following hearings in Sacramento in May and July.

The decision would revoke Kindertown operator Maria Barrows-Crist’s license on Oct. 16 and prevent her daughter, Adrienne Crist, from working at state-licensed child care facilities. A variety of complaints lodged against Kindertown since 2003 justified the revocation, according to Westmore’s decision.

Barrows-Crist, who has operated Kindertown since 1982, has been crushed by the judge’s ruling.

“We have an awesome program,” Barrows-Crist said Thursday while fighting back tears. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“If they take my business, they take my life,” Barrows-Crist added.

The most contentious of the complaints against Barrows-Crist is that she knowingly allowed her daughter, Adrienne Crist, to work at Kindertown while under the influence of marijuana, an allegation Barrows-Crist denies.

In a motion to reconsider Westmore’s decision, attorney Phillip Cunningham acknowledged Barrows-Crist sent her daughter home on two occasions in July 2007 “when she reported to work after partying late into the night.” But he contends the allegations of Adrienne being under the influence while caring for children are fabrications by two disgruntled former Kindertown employees.

Other complaints Westmore based her decision on include a fence at Kindertown that was not up to state regulations for child care centers, a failure by Barrows-Crist to maintain appropriate teacher ratios and allegations Barrows-Crist took children out of the Lake Tahoe Basin during the Angora fire without the appropriate notification to parents.

Barrows-Crist took actions to repair the fence and correct teacher ratios, and taking the children out of the smoke-filled basin during the Angora fire was important to maintain their health, Cunningham contends in the motion, which had yet to be filed as of Thursday afternoon.

An incident in which a child was burned in the Kindertown kitchen and another where Barrows-Crist allegedly downplayed a preschool student suffering a rash after eating peanut butter are other reasons Westmore ruled for Barrows-Crist’s license to be revoked.

The South Lake Tahoe resident acknowledged both incidents occurred and took corrective actions to prevent them from happening again, Cunningham contends.

“Should those incidents have been prevented, yes. Could they have been prevented, yes,” Cunningham said in the motion to reconsider. “But in the grand scheme of things, are they so egregious, so serious that this center should be closed down, no.”

Cunningham goes on to say that the evidence presented during this summer’s hearings is not sufficient to take away Barrows-Crist’s license and prevent Adrienne Crist from working in child care facilities.

Numerous parents of children who attend Kindertown contacted the Tribune in support of Barrows-Crist following a meeting at the center on Wednesday evening to discuss the allegations by the state.

Jason Wellwood, a South Lake Tahoe resident and single father of a 4-year-old girl who attends Kindertown, called the allegations against Barrows-Crist “ridiculous” and said he was concerned about the effects on his daughter if she had to go somewhere else for child care.

He doubted he would be able to find care for her at all.

Getting adequate care for the kids who would be displaced by the center’s closing was also a concern of former Kindertown employee Taryn Callahan, who defended Barrows-Crist on Friday.

“I think she’s a wonderful person who has a huge heart and gives tremendous care to all the children of her facility,” Callahan said.

The center employees 20 people and cares for about 130 children.

“I think if the facility was closed that it would leave many families in need and that children might not get the quality care they can get from there,” Callahan said.

Cunningham did not return a request for comment on Friday. When the motion to reconsider will be heard was not known.

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