ABITA SPRINGS, LA (WAFB) - The operating license for a church-supervised daycare in Abita Springs has been revoked after investigators say four toddlers were found wandering near busy street with no supervision. The church pastor says the daycare has no plans to reopen.
"It's fortunate these four toddlers are fine, but that doesn't change the fact this child care facility failed in its responsibility to care for these children," said State Superintendent John White. "We cannot, and will not, allow child care facilities like this one to operate in Louisiana."
The incident happened Monday, April 7, 2016 on Main Street in Abita Springs. Officials with the State Department of Education say a motorist found the child walking outside of the Abita Church Christian Daycare.
"The individual notified the child care center, and the children were returned to the facility," officials said in a press release. "The toddlers were able to leave the center's playground through an opening in the picket fence enclosing the property. The daycare's managers failed to report the incident to the Department."
Pastor Jerel Keene says the individual charged with watching the children was immediately terminated within two days of the incident and the daycare was closed in the following days. Pastor Keene says the fence was immediately repaired and he investigated the circumstances.
"The person saw the children in the yard next door to the church," Keene explained. "He came into the daycare. They never got to the street."
Child Welfare was alerted and the state licensing staff inspected the facility on April 11.
"During the inspection, the Department cited Abita Church Christian Daycare for failing to report the incident to the Department, not supervising the children the day the toddlers got out, and not having the playground enclosed by a barrier to prevent children from leaving the premises," the release noted. "Licensing staff also cited the center for hazards, for gaps in the picket fence which allowed a neighboring dog to put its nose and mouth between the pickets."
Pastor Keene alleges that he did report that he would be closing the daycare to the state after they contacted him, but claims he would not allow the state to post a notification that of revocation on the door of the church "due to separation of church and state."
"They're trying make a scene about us being a religious organization. It's been one headache after another," he added. "I've never had one parent complain in 15 years," he added.
The daycare has 15 days to appeal the decision. However, pastor Keene says he has no intention of attempting to reopen the daycare.
The daycare's website is currently unavailable for viewing.