The day care portion of Carousel Day School in Hicksville was closed following last week's tragedy. Photo by Kevin Imm
The Nassau District Attorney and state have launched an investigation into Hicksville's Carousel Day School. The probe comes in the wake of last week's tragedy at the nursery through third grade private school owned by Eugene and Jane Formica.
On March 17, 2-year-old Olivia Raspanti choked to death on a carrot she retrieved from a bag underneath her teacher's desk. Further investigation into the incident found that Carousel's day care program was not licensed as required by New York State (NYS) Social Services Law and has since been issued a cease and desist order prohibiting children under the age of 3 to be on the premises; programs for older children remain open.
Additionally, the Nassau District Attorney's Office launched a criminal probe, with a grand jury subpoenaing the charter and the student and licensing records of both Carousel and the Maplewood School in Wantagh, which is partially owned by Eugene Formica. Also, the New York State Office of Children & Family Services (NYS OCFS) is investigating possible negligence on the teacher's part and licensing, or lack thereof, of the under age three portion.
Carousel received its charter for nursery, preschool, kindergarten and first grade from the New York State Education Department in 1959; its program for children age 3 and under, however, is not chartered and does not show up on OCFS' online list of "regulated child care programs." As a result, state officials have deemed Carousel's day care program "illegal."
According to OCFS Director of Communications Edward Borges, the state requires schools such as Carousel to be licensed for a reason. Licensed, he 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."
Sources state that proper compliance of regulations such as the aforementioned could have helped prevent last week's tragedy.
"There is a whole licensing process and rules [a day care] must follow," Borges told Anton Community Newspapers. "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."
Last week's tragedy and the fact that there was no state regulatory agency overseeing Carousel's day care operation has also sparked a renewed push for nursery school regulation from State Senator Carl L. Marcellino.
The current law regarding child care providers authorizes the New York State (NYS) Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) oversight only for those operators, such as Carousel, which provide care for more than three children more than three hours a day. Marcellino, however, believes there is an entire subsection of child care providers, specifically those who care for children for three hours or less a day in settings commonly referred to as nursery schools, operating without "statutory definition and outside of OCFS regulations and oversight."
"The heartbreaking death of Olivia is a dreadful accident that tugs on the heart of every parent and grandparent. However, it is the government's ultimate responsibility to keep our citizens safe. It is a sad fact that, for much too long, nursery schools have been falling into the cracks and have been unregulated. I believe that we must do better," Marcellino said. "Entrusting the care of your children to others is never easy. However, the state, and those you count on to be safe need to give you confidence that they are doing their job."
The senator, who, since 2003, has been carrying a bill to rectify the situation, said his legislation would require nursery school providers to file with the OCFS; initial filing would be valid for one year with subsequent renewals valid for two years. Once filed, nursery schools would be required to conform to applicable OCFS rules and regulations, said Marcellino, adding that, as a result, a custodial parent or guardian would have unlimited access to his or her child and the right to on-demand nursery school inspection during hours of operation.
"My legislation would bring nursery school providers under state supervision, thereby protecting the safety and well-being of a large group of children who remain vulnerable. We cannot wait for another tragedy before we pass this legislation," said Marcellino.
As of 2008, there were 20,609 regulated providers, child care centers and school-age child care programs in New York State caring for some 632,422 children a year. While many parents may assume a nursery school is authorized, state officials stress it is important for them to verify all licensing and registrations before making a decision.
In selecting a day care for your child, the New York State Office of Children & Family Services (OCFS) website advises parents/guardians ask:
• Is the facility licensed and if so for how long?
• When was the facility last inspected?
• Has the facility had any serious violations within the past two years?
• Has there been any enforcement action taken against the facility?
• How many children does the facility serve and what are the ages?
• Ask to see the license/inspection certificate.
Through OCFS Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (CCRRs), services are provided to parents and day care providers in every county of New York State. Nassau residents can contact Child Care Council of Nassau, Inc., at 358- 9250, ext. 11; email JBarbieri@childcarenassau.org or visit www.childcarenassau.org. Information on a specific childcare provider s also available by contacting the OCFS Long Island Regional Office at 631-342-7100. Additionally, if you think a person or program is operating without the proper license or registration certificate, or if you wish to make a complaint, call (800) 732-5207.
For more information, or to find out if the day care your child attends is licensed, visit http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/.