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Four Kid's Country facilities on three-year probation with state

Agreement keeps centers open, adds safeguards

A prediction made earlier this summer by the executive director of Kid's Country -- that the state would not shut down four of its facilities as it had threatened -- has come true.

In an agreement reached mid-summer, officials from the after-school daycare program admitted the charges were true and were "a legally sufficient basis to discipline" Kid's Country. Officially, the licenses were revoked and the four centers are now operating with probationary licenses.

The deal follows a formal accusation filed by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), which oversees day care centers. That accusation asked for licenses to be revoked at four of the 13 Kid's Country locations, citing incidents at Country Club and Bollinger Canyon elementary schools in San Ramon, and Greenbrook and Green Valley elementary schools in Danville.

According to that accusation, two first graders were left outside Kid's Country's Country Club Elementary site when the others were brought inside last August. The two walked home. The accusation also says that same month, two 8-year-olds were left on the playground without supervision at the Kid's Country site at Bollinger Canyon Elementary. The state accusation claims staff member "failed to follow school procedures in place and conduct a head count before returning to the classroom."

In January 2010, a 6-year-old was left alone in a bathroom at Green Valley Elementary while others moved to a different classroom. According to the state accusation, the child "exited the campus and started to walk down the sidewalk on his way home."

The accusation also says a similar incident occurred in September 2008 at Greenbrook Elementary, when two children, aged nine and 10, "left the school undetected and walked home."

The agreement between the state and Kid's Country requires a head count to be done every 30 minutes. It also requires a staff person to be stationed within eyesight of any gate that could let children walk off.

Kid's Country Executive Director Chris Erbe said in June that the licenses wouldn't be revoked, and pointed out the daycare centers had put in additional safeguards even before receiving the license revocation notice from CDSS.

Those included removing assistant directors from child-care responsibilities, freeing them up to respond to trouble -- something that's a part of the probation agreement with the state.

The agreement allows for unannounced visits from state officials and requires any instance of a child walking off from one of the four facilities to be reported by the next working day with a written report filed within seven days.

The agreement also includes a "probation monitoring fee" equal to the centers' annual licensing fee. However, CDSS spokesman Oscar Ramirez said that's not a fine, but for what he described as "additional and enhanced monitoring."

"It's basically saying we're doing this, so we're going to charge you for it," he said.

He said the health and safety of the children at a daycare center is paramount, but added the state tries hard to keep centers open because the services they provide are important to the communities they serve.

"We're not in the business of closing a place down -- unless it's warranted," Ramirez said.

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