A Bethesda day care is under investigation by the Maryland Department of Education and two employees have been fired after a mother arrived at the center Monday to find her toddler and three other classmates had wandered away from the site.
The education department launched its investigation into the Montgomery Child Care Association earlier this week after they were made aware of the incident Monday, but no additional information was available Thursday regarding the department’s findings or the potential outcome of the investigation, said Maryland Department of Education Spokesman Bill Reinhard.
“In these, like any investigation, you want to make sure you’ve done everything necessary,” Reinhard said. “Whenever something like this occurs, we do launch an investigation. Fortunately these incidents are rare, but we do know that the center has fired two employees involved.”
The day care, a nonprofit that provides day care and afterschool services for more than 1,000 children in 15 sites across the county, has been cooperative with investigators, Reinhard said.
But at least one mother, Wendy Rhein, was frustrated with what she called the center’s lack of information sharing and overall transparency. Even two days after she arrived at the center to find her 2-and-a-half-year-old son standing with a stranger and three other day care students across the street from the day care property, she still has not heard any explanation from the center regarding what happened or the nonprofit’s protocol for missing children.
“All the parents need to know what happens in case a child goes missing or if an emergency takes place inside the school ... clearly there was a breakdown here, and the leadership of MCCA and the directors here need to step up and be responsible to the people of this community,” Rhein said Wednesday after several attempts to learn from the center director and others what happened. “She just kept saying to me 'I can't tell you that.’”
What Rhein does know is she arrived at the day care’s Bethesda location, the Bethesda/Lynbrook center at 8001 Lynbrook Drive, at 4:45 p.m. Monday to pick up her youngest son.
“All of the sudden, on the street right behind us I could hear this man yelling 'Lynbrook, you've lost your kids!'” she said, recalling the shock she felt as she turned and saw her son running toward her with three of his classmates. “I was yelling at the teacher saying ‘How could you let this happen? How could you lose four children?’ I said ‘This is unacceptable,’ and she said 'Yes, it is.' That was the extent of what she had to say.”
The man, an unknown Good Samaritan, had apparently been walking his dog with his own child when he spotted the toddlers from the day care near a row of cars across the street, Rhein said. After comforting her son and leading his classmates back to the center, Rhein turned to see the man had gone.
Calls to the day care were being forwarded to the Epic PR Group, a private public relations company, earlier this week. In a press release issued shortly after the incident, MCCA apologized to parents and vowed to take measures to prevent future incidents.
“We understand the trust parents have placed in our care givers and are taking this failure to follow established procedures seriously. We regret this incident occurred and have taken immediate and decisive action,” the statement reads in part.
The release states that, in addition to firing the two employees found responsible, the nonprofit is conducting third-party audits of each classroom, retraining its employees in proper inside and outdoor protocol for classes and posting teacher and aide schedules outside each classroom to be updated daily.
The release also claims that day care officials reached out to parents by telephone and email immediately after the incident and met with many parents and community members in person, a claim Rhein denied Wednesday.
“I have asked for an incident report, I have asked for a written report, and I’ve gotten nothing,” Rhein said. “The school did not even communicate that night with the parents, only the parents whose children were involved.”
Rhein said her son is still fearful after the incident and having trouble sleeping. While she is relieved and thankful her son was unharmed when she found him, she has pulled him out of the day care and is considering potential legal action.
“They were immediately on communication lockdown and there was no way I could bring my child back there,” she said. “I really just want to know what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again, to be honest, but the longer they don't respond to me, the more I’m considering what my legal options are.”