Verndale Christian Academy preschool takes action after slapping incident
A state investigation determined that maltreatment had occurred, but not serious or recurring maltreatment.
VERNDALE — An employee at Verndale Area Christian Academy preschool was shifted to administrative work after a state investigation found that a 5-year-old boy had been kicked three times and slapped on the face three times during an Oct. 25 episode in which the child was acting out physically.
No identifying information about the employee or child was released in the Jan. 6 Maltreatment Investigation Memorandum done by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
The state determined that maltreatment had occurred, but not serious or recurring maltreatment.
When the incident occurred, “we self-reported to the state,” said Pastor Amos Self, the head administrator at Verndale Area Christian Academy. “We really pride ourselves on providing a safe and very accountable environment – there are cameras all over the place to protect staff and students, so if something happens we can take corrective action and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
According to the memorandum, the child was enrolled in the preschool classroom, and because of past incidents of hitting, biting and kicking other kids and staff members, was under the guidance of a behavior intervention plan: When “target behaviors” occurred, such as the child slapping, kicking, or pushing other children or employees, staff would “redirect the child to engage in quiet time activities or take a walk with a staff person.”
Staff would also move the child away from the other kids, and document the child’s behaviors, and the action taken by staff.
The incident occurred shortly after 10:30 a.m. Oct. 25, when the boy did not want to put a coat on to go outside with the other children, and started to have a “meltdown,” screamed, and ran down the hallway, according to the memorandum. A staff person ran after the 5-year-old, picked up the child, and returned to the group.
Another staff member yelled for another employee to help calm the boy, as other staff members were helping kids put on their coats, mittens and boots to go outside.
The employee who came to help took the 5-year-old back into the classroom to keep the child away from the other children until things calmed down, so that the boy did not harm the other children. The employee said the child tried to hit other kids as they walked by, so the employee walked between the child and the other kids to protect them.
Video in the facility showed the employee shut the classroom door so the boy couldn’t run out into the hallway, then sat in a chair by the door, held the child by both arms and attempted to talk to him.
About 20 seconds later, the boy started struggling, kicked at the employee and missed, then kicked the employee on the left foot-ankle area. The two then exchanged several kicks, with the child’s third kick landing on the employee’s left shin.
The employee then tried to hold the boy's face, but the 5-year-old leaned backward and tried to grab the hand away. The employee then slapped the boy’s face three times in a row with the left hand as the child continued to struggle.
The employee then picked up the child’s coat, pulled the kid back into a hug, held on for a while and talked to the child. About 20 seconds later the boy kneeled and turned, picked up his coat, and threw it at the employee, who then helped the child up and they left the room together. The child calmed down and they went outside to play with the other children.
Back at home, the boy told a family member what had happened, and the family member told preschool staff the next day. The classroom video was reviewed and the incident was reported.
A staff person told the state investigator that none of the preschool employees had previous concerns about the employee’s interactions with the 5-year-old or other children and they believed the employee “worked well” with the children. The employee also said there had never been any similar incidents with children.
A family member told a state investigator that prior to the incident, the family had had no concerns about the care the 5-year-old received at the facility. The boy had no injuries after the incident, and no longer attends the Verndale Area Christian Academy.
Like the boy in the incident, it’s not unusual for a child at the preschool to have a behavior plan, Self said. “We do our best to help them, and if we can’t, they go to other facilities,” Self said.
“He’s a wonderful kid,” he added. “This is one of those things you wish never happened, but when it does, you do everything you can to maintain the trust of the parents.”
Self called and talked to parents of children in the classroom where the incident occurred, and also notified other parents who have children at the facility. “All parents are concerned,” he said.
Following the incident, the facility completed an internal review and determined that its policies were adequate, but were not followed by the employee, who no longer works directly with the children, but now works in more of an administrative role, according to the memorandum.
Obviously, it’s never okay for a staff person to hit or spank a child, and that’s never supposed to happen, Self said. Nonetheless, as part of a Jan. 6, 2023, corrective order from the state, the facility made some edits to its policies and implemented additional staff training “so they are more fully aware of where those lines are,” Self said.
The state determined that the employee had committed maltreatment, but not serious maltreatment (as defined by the state) and not recurring maltreatment, so it did not revoke the employee’s access to the classroom, Self said.
However, he added, “our board made the determination that (the employee) won’t work with kids in the classroom anymore,” and will not have any disciplinary role with children. The employee “is such an amazing staff person,” he said, adding that the incident “was so outside their usual character.”