A toddler attending the Carousel Day School in Hicksville died March 17 after choking on a carrot. Further investigation into the incident found that the West Avenue school's day care program was not licensed as required by New York State Social Services Law and has subsequently been shut down.
At a press conference Wednesday, Nassau County Police Detective Anthony Repalone reported that, at approximately 10:30 a.m., 2-year-old Olivia Raspanti of Hicksville began to choke after a piece of carrot became lodged in her throat. The teacher immediately began to administer first aid, including CPR and back thrusts, and 911 was called, said Repalone. School officials also performed finger sweeps to dislodge small pieces of the carrot. Eighth Precinct Police Officers arrived at the scene, continued CPR and transported Olivia to Nassau University Medical Center, where she arrived in cardiac arrest. Olivia, who would have turned 3 on May 17, was pronounced dead at 4:25 p.m.
"The child went behind the desk and grabbed carrots out of a teacher's bag," said Repalone, who added that it was unknown as of press time how the child knew the carrots were under the teacher's desk or if the teacher had given the children carrots as a snack earlier in the day. At the time of the incident there was a teacher and two teachers' aides in the classroom with a dozen toddlers.
As a result of the tragedy, Nassau Police, the state and child protective services are investigating possible negligence on the teacher's part and licensing, or lack there of, at the private day care.
While the private school shows up on the New York State Education Department's website, a search conducted by this newspaper spooled no results for Carousel on the New York State Office of Children and Family Services' (NYS OCFS) online list of "regulated child care programs."
That's because, said NYS OCFS Director of Communications Edward Borges, Carousel is operating its day care program without a license. "We had no knowledge this place existed," he said.
According to Borges, the NYS OCFS requires any day care provider caring for three or more children more than three hours a day - such as Carousel was - to be licensed. Licensed, Borges said, means the facility is inspected, on a regular basis, to ensure it meets nutrition requirements, provides proper fire escapes and has professional staff, among other factors.
In fact, NYS OCFS Regulation #418.1.5(t) states that "handbags, backpacks or briefcases belonging to adults [as well as] plastic bags, toys and objects small enough for children to swallow must be used and stored in such a manner that they are not accessible to children."
"There is a whole licensing process and rules [a day care] must follow," Borges said. "We do all we can to regulate [them] so that parents can leave knowing their children are being cared for in a safe environment. That is why we exist."
A cease and desist order was issued to the school late Wednesday afternoon prohibiting children under 3 from being on the premises but, as of press time Thursday, it had yet to be signed by the school's owners. Under the order, school officials are required to notify parents that they do not have a license and, if found in violation, could be fined $500 a day. Carousel, said Borges, would be able to reopen its day care program only if the required state license was applied for and granted.
Carousel, which has been operating in Hicksville since 1956, also offers programs for older children; as of press time, these programs remain open.
When contacted, a female who answered the phone at Carousel told the Hicksville Illustrated News, "I'm sorry I cannot talk right now," and hung up.
In a statement, owner Gene Formica said, "The health and safety of all our children is our greatest concern at Carousel Day School, and this loss has affected each of us very deeply and personally ... We are shocked and saddened by this tragic loss."
Repalone told members of the media that police have responded to two minor incidents at the school in the past two years; the first for an alarm and a second for a 4-year-old student with an injured elbow.