LORTON, Va. (WJLA) - The parents of several children who once attended a Minnieland Academy day care facility in Woodbridge have retained lawyers as an investigation into allegations of abuse continue.
A Fairfax law firm has been approached by the families of several victims, who say that their children were subject to mistreatment at the hands of several Minnieland employees in Northern Virginia who were fired, according to Social Services records.
Their actions are in connection to the September firing of two employees at Minnieland Academy At The Glen, a Woodbridge child care center that's part of a large chain of day care operations.
According to Virginia Department of Social Services reports, the two employees had been mentally and physically abusing children for nearly six months before they were dismissed.
Inspection records indicate that the two employees had been observed stepping on the toes of children, spraying them with water hoses, telling kids that they were "ugly" and encouraging children to hit each other.
More than 3,000 children go to before- and after-school programs run by Minnieland at 53 Prince William County elementary schools.
Damon Cerrone, who oversees the Prince William County Public Schools School-Age Child Care (SACC) program, tells ABC7 that his staff visits every site, sometimes unannounced.
Cerrone says no school district money goes into SACC. The program is funded by tuition paid by participants. Minnieland provides the before- and after-school staff; the school district provides the space.
A letter went home to parents last week after the Minnieland violations became public, saying the charges are "completely unrelated" to the SACC program, and assuring parents their kids are safe.
In a statement, Minnieland co-founder Jackie Leopold said that her company strives to offer a "most loving and caring environment."
"We are sorry that some parents have learned of our reporting to the state licensing agency by outside sources and even through false rumors," Leopold said. "We take the education of our children seriously and know there is nothing more important to a parent than knowing that they have made the best decision for their child."
That's not what Joi Morton and Stella Staine found at a Minnieland Academy in Lorton, though. Staine says that was Morton's daughter who was named in a Social Services report as being thrown by one staff member to another in October.
A report on the incident says that a second staff member was not expecting the 21-month-old girl to be thrown and caught the girl less than a foot off the ground.
"She picked the child up and threw her to another teacher," Staine said. "She didn't throw her inches. She threw her several feet." The Social Services report says that the girl was "in flight" for about 5 feet.
The staff member said to have thrown the child was fired and a notice was sent home to parents.
"When the director told me, it was a very watered-down version," Morton said. "it was very, 'Oh, it was a game.'"
An attempt to locate Heather McGee, the director of the Lorton child care center, was unsuccessful after an attempt to find her at her office.
Social Services officials recommended a number of changes to the way that specific Minnieland Acacemy went about their business, but it did indicate that both Woodbridge staff members, only identified as Staff A and Staff B, were fired.
These reports include a child being allowed to walk outside barefoot on a hot day at a Richmond-area Minnieland Academy; that child had to be taken to an emergency room with second-degree burns on his feet.