Stolen Joy: Response from APSO and Louisiana Dept. of Education

PRAIRIEVILLE — Numerous parents and former employees of JOY’s Early Learning Center, a daycare in Prairieville, are making allegations of abuse and neglect against the daycare’s owners, mother and daughter Vicki and Gabrielle May.

Updates from APSO and Louisiana Dept. of Education

APSO reached out to UWK after learning about our investigation into Joy’s daycare. Sheriff Webre stated:

The recent allegations of child abuse at a local day care are truly disheartening and concerning. I want to assure the families affected, and all our residents, that the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office is dedicated to taking every report seriously and conducting a thorough investigation. Our children, who will one day lead this great parish, deserve no less than a safe and nurturing space where they can learn, grow, and thrive.

Additionally, the Dept. of Education provided clarity on Joy’s past infractions, and the process for investigating allegations of critical incidents involving children.

Joy Early Learning Center has been under a corrective action plan since November 30, 2023. This plan is monitored by the center’s assigned licensing consultant. If additional complaints or incidents are received, the LDOE will investigate those concerns.

Per Bulletin 137 Section 1103, an early learning center must make immediate notification to law enforcement, if applicable, and DCFS within 24 hours, if there is a critical incident involving children in care.

Per the question on the process for revocation when applicable: A recommendation may be made citing the actions that triggered the decision to revoke a center’s license noted in Bulletin 137 Section 1301.A. A summary is compiled of all the center’s information for a review. If the decision is made to revoke, the provider receives a hand delivered notice that sites the reason(s) for revocation. The notice includes the timeframe and required steps to take in order to appeal the agency decision to revoke. The provider is allowed to operate during this process unless determined otherwise. If a timely appeal is received, a hearing before the Division Administration Law judge is held within 30 days from the notice. If the judge upholds the decision, the center must cease operation immediately. If the judge overturns the department’s decision, the center may continue to operate.

Per Section 1105.B of Bulletin 137, when violations do not result in revocation of a license, the Department may issue a written notice of warning such as a corrective action plan that outlines required actions to be implemented immediately. This center has been under a corrective action plan.

History of infractions against the daycare

In records obtained by UWK, the daycare has had several infractions issued by the state in 2021, 2022 and 2023. JOY’s received a “Not Met” status in several guidelines required by the state, including supervision, CPR and pediatric first aid, behavior management policy, water activities, critical incident, required notifications, and child-to-staff ratios.

On September 9, 2023, one report shows JOY’s failed to notify child welfare services within 24 hours that a child received multiple bites and scratches to their face. Another record shows they failed to notify the state or the child’s parents when a child under their care was able to get out of the facility. The child was returned by a bystander later that day.

In another instance, records show that the daycare didn’t have the appropriate number of staff present. The daycare was cited for only having one staff member overseeing eight children under two years old. The state requires at least two staff for that number of children.

The infractions are maintained by the Louisiana Department of Education, which oversees daycares in Louisiana.

“She’s just a really good liar”

JOY's daycare

Four parents spoke on the record with UWK about their experience at JOY’s Early Learning Center. All four parents spoke of incidents they claim they had with the daycare’s owners.

The incidents were so severe that many of them took to Facebook to warn other parents about the alleged abuse.

“We were on our phones probably for like two weeks straight answering emails and text messages and messages on Facebook from other moms and other dads having horror stories of things happening to their kids at the daycare,” said Michelle Danos.

One parent describes an incident that happened to her son in November 2022.

“I picked him up from school, and he had a scratch mark on his face that kind of looked like a fingernail indention,” Anne Marie Blount said. “I asked him what happened, and he said, ‘My teacher grabbed me by the face because I wouldn’t lay down’.”

Blount says she confronted Gabrielle May about the incident.

“Very rudely, she looked at my son and she said, ‘Who did that to you?’ and he said, ‘You did it to me’.”

Blount says that May accused her son of lying, but she insists that her son was telling the truth.

“We get in the car, and he’s still crying. He’s saying, ‘Mom, I promise I’m not lying. There was glue on my pants, and I didn’t want to lay on my (mat) because it would get it dirty’.'” She said her son told her that Gabrielle May proceeded to grab him by the face and scratched him.

Pictures from that afternoon show that Blount’s son did have glue down the side of his pants while at JOY’s daycare.

Another parent says that the abuse was so bad at the daycare, one teacher went out of her way to get in touch with her.

“She told me that Gabbi assaulted my son physically,” Andriana Pousson told UWK. She says that her child was misbehaving and somehow got out of his classroom and broke a picture frame.

“Gabbi picked him up by the hand and dragged him and just kind of tossed him into a wall for time out,” the mom alleges. “They always told me he’s a great kid, he’s doing awesome. I didn’t think anything was wrong. He’s always been very clumsy, so he frequently came home with scrapes and bruises. I’ve seen him trip and fall many times. You don’t think anything of it.”

‘She told the baby she wanted to throw it against the wall’

Former teachers at the daycare also spoke with UWK about the alleged abuse inside JOY’S. Sydney Dominquez is one of the teachers who came forward about what she says she saw while working at the daycare.

“A baby was sick, running a (high) fever, and mom was not picking up,” Dominquez recalls. “(The baby) was very fussy, and Gabriella May picked up the baby and changed (him) because (he) had a bowel movement out of his clothes. She told the baby that she f-ing hated it and wanted to throw it against the wall.”

Dominquez says that she reported the incident to DCFS, but she says despite an investigation, nothing ever came of it. UWK reached out to DCFS, but they said they were unable to comment on the specifics at JOY’s daycare.

In another incident, Dominquez claims that a child was burned after being neglected by two other teachers and that an autistic toddler was regularly left in a chair all day despite other kids being allowed to run around and play.

“They would keep him in there all day while the other kids are running around playing,” Dominquez claims adding that the only time he was taken out of the chair was when all of the kids were taken outside to play.

Dominquez says that she was reprimanded if she tried to take the toddler out of the chair. She tells UWK that her hours were significantly cut and alleges that she was penalized on her paychecks before ultimately being terminated for making what the daycare owner deemed were “false accusations.”

Another teacher who spoke to UWK under the condition of anonymity alleges that children being left alone was typical at JOY’s.

She says that sometimes babies were put in dark and quiet rooms and left there for several hours. In one incident, she claims that a baby who was left unsupervised in a swing flipped upside down and was “beet red” from screaming for at least 30 minutes.

Many of the parents who spoke out about the alleged abuse at JOY’s say it has all had an impact on their child.

“(My child) is still in speech therapy and occupational therapy, and after we found everything out, I brought him to see a psychologist,” Andriana said. “She gave me a handout on trauma responses and he was showing those signs.”

They say by speaking up, their hope is it will lead other parents to do their homework about the daycares they are sending their children to.

Latest deficiencies

UWK pulled licensing reports for JOY Early Learning Center for December 2023, as well as January and February 2024. The daycare had 4 “Not Met’ deficiencies during those three months.

  • December 18: A piece of metal siding was sticking out on the side of the walkway on the playground. The owners reportedly agreed to have it fixed by that afternoon.
  • December 8: The daycare failed to have a supervised staff member certified in CPR and pediatric first aid. The owner stated that training was scheduled for January 5.
  • December 8: Child care criminal background check not complete on all employees. The owner stated that they would ensure compliance.
  • December 8: A broken pipe was accessible by children in an outdoor area near a fence. The owner stated that the exposed pipe would be blocked off until properly fixed to ensure compliance.

UWK reached out to Gabrielle May by phone for a response to the allegations of mistreatment at JOY’s daycare. We were asked to send an email with questions. We complied with the request, but have not yet heard back.

Parents interested in searching their child’s daycare can find reports on the Louisiana School and Center Finder. The state lists licensing regulations and more on child care facility licenses on their website.

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