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Published: Friday, 10/26/2012

Agency says licenses were renewed without visit

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Ohio Department of Education said an employee falsified reports related to preschool licensing renewals.

Spokesman John Charlton said the employee was responsible for 135 preschools, including 128 site visits, in northwest Ohio. The department conducts in-person safety inspections at preschools run by public and charter schools before issuing a yearly license renewal. The visits include fire safety checks and other precautionary steps, such as making sure outlets are covered.

Mr. Charlton said the department discovered that the Columbus-based employee, whose name was not released, did not visit some of the preschools whose licenses were renewed.

“We are pretty confident that there were six that she did not go to, and we are unable to determine how many were not visited,” he said.

He would not identify the preschools where visits did not occur but said the department since has visited each of the six sites, plus others, and found no evidence “any preschool was out of regulation.” The employee’s region covered about 20 counties, including Lucas County.

The department will visit all the preschools possibly affected within the next 30 days “out of an abundance of caution,” he said, and to make sure the sites meet licensing requirements.

“ODE is a alarmed by this situation. The safety of children is a top priority of the department. We are taking swift and immediate action to ensure that this situation will not happen again,” he said. “In no way does a new site visit suggest that any preschool does not meet requirements. They should all be considered safe.”

The problem came to light about a week ago when a department contractor went to a site to conduct an inspection and was told by the preschool that it received a previous renewal without undergoing a site visit.

The department stripped the employee in question of all responsibilities, but she is still being paid as an investigation continues, Mr. Charlton said. The department referred the incident to the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the inspector general, he said.

Mr. Charlton said a supervisor confronted the employee about the situation and “she did not deny that she did not conduct these visits.”

The department now will require preschool administrators to sign paperwork after an inspector’s site visit, Mr. Charlton said.

Toledo Public Schools spokesman Patty Mazur said the state department conducted a site visit of its preschools recently, and a license renewal was received.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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