STARKE, Fla — Starke police said the violations stemmed from surveillance footage captured around the daycare. This comes after Action News Jax reported cell phone video prompted an investigation into the same daycare in August.
The employee who shared the video said you can hear another employee say, “I’ll put my hands around your neck and choke slam you” to a student.
Since then, several other parents have come forward with stories like Brenda Perez. “I think [the suspension] is great so everything can actually get investigated. My story never went anywhere. But I’m glad I get to speak about it now,” she told Action News Jax’s Robert Grant.
The mother of four said she used to work at the daycare for several months and never had any issues. After she left the job in January of 2021, she noticed problems with her three sons. Her then 4-year-old came home with a swollen eye last year. Her other sons also at one point had scratches and bite marks on their face. Perez claimed the owner didn’t have an explanation.
Action News Jax dug through inspection reports from the Department of Children and Families. According to the report, DCF received security footage from Starke police that dated back to August of 2021. The inspector said a staff member could be seen, “...tossing several children down onto mats at naptime,” and, “...slamming children down on a combo desk.” The report goes on to say the same employee was “...tossing food onto the floor for the children to pick up and consume.”
On a different day in August, an employee “...grabbed a child by his neck and forced him down on his mat,” according to the report. The inspector noted that the actions could be defined as child abuse because the owner never reported it to the abuse hotline.
Action News Jax visited the day care on Monday looking for answers. A teacher opened the door but declined to comment and referred us instead to DCF.
The daycare, which has been in operation for more than three decades, has had run-ins with law enforcement in the past. A police report from 2016 showed the owner, Linda Bryant, was charged with battery on a child. According to the report, an employee told police Bryant “placed one hand over a 5-year-old’s mouth and the other on his head while telling him to stop crying.” It went on to say, “...she wasn’t letting go until he stopped.”
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The employee allegedly told police they feared retaliation from the owner for speaking up. DCF also investigated, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. “It’s just not okay that they get brushed aside as if nothing ever happened,” Perez said.
Action News Jax reached out to DCF for clarification on why it took 10 months since the initial investigation for the state to take action. At this time, we have not yet heard back. Parents are being told to bring their kids to Episcopal Children’s Services on North Pine Street in Starke during the suspension. It’s not clear if or when Bradford Preschool will re-open.