JOHN HOPE SETTLEMENT HOUSE, INC., d/b/a JOHN HOPE DAY CARE CENTER Appellant
RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN, YOUTH & FAMILIES; JAMIA MCDONALD in her Capacity as Acting Director; LAURA KIESLER in her Capacity as Chief of the Licensing Division Appellees
County Superior Court
Plaintiff: Peter Petrarca, Esq.
Defendant: Patricia M. Hessler, Esq. Kevin J. Aucoin, Esq.
Hope Settlement House, Inc., d/b/a John Hope Day Care Center
(John Hope or the Center) appealed the revocation of its
Child Care Program License by the State of Rhode Island
Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF or the
Department). Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 §
Hope has operated a day care in Providence for over
forty-five years. Starting in August 2013, DCYF placed them
on probationary status for reasons not in the
record. R. Ex. 3 at 1; see also R. Ex. 5
at 1. Since that time, the Center has been on probation,
except for a two-week period and a four-week period. R. Ex.
14, Hr'g Tr. 10:15-11:5, Dec. 9, 2016 (hereinafter
Hr'g Tr.). By August 31, 2016, the Center was approaching
a continuous one-year period of having been on probation. R.
Ex. 5. As probationary licenses are only valid
for twelve months, with a possible six-month extension, DCYF
required John Hope to prepare and discuss a corrective action
plan towards attaining compliance. Sec. 42-72.1-5(6); R. Ex.
meeting in mid-September, John Hope submitted a corrective
action plan. However, during a site visit on October 27,
2016,  DCYF identified three regulatory
violations that they claimed "impacted the safe
operation of the program." R. Ex. 9. First, DCYF
"found that there was one child care staff person,
" Charmaine Roberts, "working with children
notwithstanding a notice of disqualification for child care
employment." Id. Second, a different child care
worker, Margaret Valerio,  had been employed "without any
documentation that [that] employee had been subjected to a
criminal background check." Id. Finally, the
Center failed to inform DCYF that its site coordinator had
resigned, creating a vacancy in a key position. Id.;
R. Ex. 13 at 11 (hereinafter Hr'g Decision). Based on
these discoveries, on October 28, 2016, DCYF sent John Hope a
letter informing the Center of the Department's intention
to revoke its child care license. R. Ex. 9.
and John Hope representatives met on November 7, 2016 to
discuss these violations. Hr'g Tr. 41:7-17. However, the
Department notified John Hope via a letter dated November 15,
2016 that DCYF had revoked its license pursuant to the DCYF
Child Care Program Regulations for Licensure (Regulations),
section two, IV.A. R. Ex. 3 at 2. This revocation was to be
effective at the end of business on November 29, 2016.
Id. at 1. John Hope sought an administrative appeal.
During the pendency of this appeal, the parties agreed to
stay the revocation. DCYF's Mem. at 4.
were conducted on December 9 and 23, 2016 before Hearing
Officer Benjamin Copple. A total of six witnesses testified
at the hearings. DCYF called Veronica Davis, Chief of
Licensing Regulation for the Department, as its first
witness. She testified to the events that led to the issuance
of the revocation letter, Hr'g Tr. 8:13-9:1, 9:23-10:8,
the probationary history of the Center, Hr'g Tr.
10:9-12:6, and the monitoring a day care facility undergoes
when on probation, Hr'g Tr. 13:7-15:18. She also
testified about a meeting discussing with John Hope "a
plan of corrective action which would outline the steps and
how the program would come into compliance."
Id. at 18:1-3. Additionally, Ms. Davis discussed two
subsequent monitoring visits, both conducted by Margy Ryan, a
DCYF Licensing Specialist. It was during the latter visit, on
October 27, 2016, that the violations that led to the
revocation of the Center's license were discovered.
Id. at 28:3-32:12. Ms. Davis then described the
steps the Department took after discovering the violations,
including verifying the underlying information, deciding the
appropriate course of action, and meeting with Center
representatives. Id. at 38:4-39:16, 41:7-44:13,
Ryan was the Department's second witness. She first
described how the monitoring process worked generally,
starting with a check of "each classroom, viewing the
classroom staff/child ratios, checking the condition of the
classrooms, [and] checking the bathroom facilities for the
children." Id. at 63:20-23. Next, she followed
with an examination of the required records, including
"child records, staff records, fire drills, professional
development plans and certifications from staff."
Id. at 64:1-3. After summarizing the general
procedure, Ms. Ryan went on to describe her two visits to the
Center. Specifically, she discussed the violations she
discovered that day: the disqualifying information in Ms.
Roberts's file, id. at 66:19-68:24; the missing
fingerprint records for Ms. Valerio, id. at 70:3-14;
and the absence of a site coordinator, id. at
Department's final witness was John Duggan, a Licensing
Aid for the Department. He testified to his practice when
performing background checks on prospective child care
employees. Namely, he "run[s] a DCYF clearance and a
master file clearance, and [then] send[s] the results letters
of those clearances to the respective agencies."
Id. at 79:12-14, 87:11-90:20, 92:24-97:20. At 10:55
AM on September 1, 2016, Mr. Duggan e-mailed a clearance
result letter for Ms. Roberts to the Center. Id. at
82:7-8; R. Ex. 10 at 1. This letter stated that Ms. Roberts
"had indicated involvement in investigation(s) that
were not of a disqualifying nature." Hr'g
Tr. 82:9-15; R. Ex. 10 at 2. However, Mr. Duggan sent a
follow-up e-mail seven minutes later asking the recipient to
"[p]lease disregard my previous e-mail, " noting
that "[t]he wrong box was checked off." Hr'g
Tr. 82:20-83:22; R. Ex. 10 at 3. The corrected clearance
results letter, attached to this e-mail, indicated that
"Department Records show that there is
disqualifying information on record for this applicant."
Hr'g Tr. 83:6-8; R. Ex. 10 at 4. Mr. Duggan further
testified that he could not recall whether he received a
subsequent phone call about the matter. Hr'g Tr. 84:1-13,
Hope's first witness was Tracy Richotte,  an Administrative
Assistant at the Center. After describing her job duties,
id. at 101:21-103:8, Ms. Richotte turned to the
issue of Ms. Roberts. She testified that the Center received
two e-mails in short succession regarding Ms. Roberts's
background check, and that she "was informed of the
second one the day after" receiving the first.
Id. at 103:20-104:19. Ms. Richotte stated that she
indeed did call Mr. Duggan, who told her that "there was
just a complaint, nothing else." Id. at
104:20-106:4. She also testified that the requisite
documentation was in Ms. Valerio's file, contrary to
DCYF's allegations. Id. at 112:4-8. Ms. Richotte
also admitted that she had "received nothing after the
second notification that said that [Ms. Roberts] was
therefore qualified." Id. at 122:17-19.
Ms. Richotte, John Hope called Vanessa Dailey, the
Center's Operations Finance Manager. Ms. Dailey testified
that upon being informed that Ms. Valerio did not have a
criminal background check in her file, she looked into Ms.
Valerio's file and found such a check there. Id.
at 125:5-15, 127:4-15. However, Ms. Dailey conceded that her
examination of the file occurred after Ms. Ryan's visit.
Id. at 148:1-4.
final witness to testify was JoAnn McDowell, Director of the
John Hope day care and after school programs. Ms. McDowell
testified first about the departure of the Center's site
coordinator. Id. at 157:19-159:22. She asserted that
the Center delayed notifying DCYF of the site coordinator
vacancy because they "were advertising" and hoping
they "would be able to take what was a permanent site
coordinator." Id. at 160:3-6. Ms. McDowell
agreed that the Center "had the intention of telling
DCYF of what was going on." Id. at 160:10-12.
Upon cross-examination, however, Ms. McDowell admitted that
John Hope did not notify DCYF of the site coordinator's
departure, despite knowing that they were required to report
any significant changes to the Department as soon as it
occurred. Id. at 178:11-18. Ms. McDowell also
testified to what she had heard regarding Ms. Roberts's
hiring and her disqualification. Id. at 168:9-173:3.
Finally, Ms. McDowell agreed that if there were something
"untrue" on Ms. Ryan's monitoring report, Ms.
McDowell would point that out to Ms. Ryan. Id. at
Officer Copple issued a decision on February 21, 2017
upholding DCYF's decision. Subsequently, John Hope
appealed to this Court, which stayed the final revocation of
the Center's license until resolution of this appeal.