After a staff member at a Citrus Heights daycare and learning center injured an 8-year-old boy last week, the boy’s family is calling on local and state agencies to conduct independent investigations to understand how the incident occurred, and to prevent similar cases from happening again.

Robin Johnson said that on Sept. 15, a staff member forcefully pulled her son out of a classroom at San Juan KinderCare and dragged him by the arm down the hallway to the administrative office. No one at the daycare called Johnson about the incident, but when her son came home, his elbow was swollen and he told her he was in pain.

Johnson’s family brought him to the emergency room that night, where a doctor told her that her son had torn ligaments in his arm with a possible fracture.

“You failed to protect my child,” Johnson said, standing outside the Citrus Heights facility Thursday afternoon with her husband and her son, who wore a sling decorated with dinosaurs. The Bee is withholding the name of Johnson’s son to protect his identity as a child victim of abuse.

A spokeswoman for the daycare’s corporate office said in a statement that managers at the local daycare were not aware of the incident until the following day. When they heard of the incident, they “immediately placed the employee involved on administrative leave while we conducted our own investigation into the situation,” spokeswoman Colleen Moran in an email.

The company fired the employee who injured Johnson’s son on Wednesday, Moran said in an email. The company declined to release the name of the staff member.

“We take all safety claims seriously and follow a very specific protocol anytime an issue is raised,” Moran said in a statement.

The Citrus Heights facility is one of more than 1,000 daycare centers operated in the United States by Portland-based company KinderCare.

Johnson’s son had been going to San Juan KinderCare for about three years for afterschool childcare services. When the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person classes at his elementary school, Johnson started enrolling her son in all-day childcare services to keep him on track with distance learning.

On its website, the daycare states its K-6 distance learning program will “ensure your child is logged on, help them with their school schedule, make sure they have plenty of mental and physical breaks throughout the day, and our highly-trained teachers are here to help your child stay on track!”

“It was emotional every day for me. It just made me feel like I didn’t make the right choice for a school for him to go to,” Johnson said. “I’m afraid to let him go back to school again.”

Johnson said the employee who hurt her son was not his normal instructor, but a staff member who took over while the teacher stepped away for a break. The teacher had told the class and the staff member that they could have free time to play with toys quietly or do schoolwork. When the teacher left, the staff member told the class they had to do school work. When Johnson’s son disagreed, Johnson said, the employee “snatched him from the carpet” by the arm.

The state has investigated the Citrus Heights daycare twice since 2017 after receiving complaints. A state investigator looked into an allegation last year that “facility staff handled day care child in a rough manner,” according to a state report. A complaint in February 2017 alleged a “lack of supervision resulting in a child sustaining injuries.”

In both cases, state investigators said the allegations were unsubstantiated because there was not a preponderance of evidence proving the incidents did or did not occur. Several lawsuits have been filed against the day care in Sacramento Superior Court. The daycare was sued in December after a therapist working at the facility allegedly sexually abused a minor the previous year. In 2016, a mother sued the facility for negligence after her daughter slipped on a wet floor and broke her leg.

Johnson has since filed a complaint with the state Child Care Licensing Program, and a report with the Citrus Heights Police Department. Department spokeswoman Larissa Wasilevsky said a detective has been assigned to the case, and an investigation is still in “preliminary stages.” San Juan KinderCare has also reported the incident to Sacramento County Child Protective Services and the California Department of Social Services, according to Moran.

A representative of the daycare left a voicemail and sent an email to Johnson earlier this week, but have not communicated with the family since, Johnson said. She said the daycare did not notify her that the employee had been fired Wednesday.

Studies and reports by civil rights and education experts have shown that Black students are far more likely to be suspended or disciplined, and that there are clear disparities in the way Black students are punished compared to their peers.

Black boys were about five times more likely to be suspended in Sacramento County than the statewide average, a Sacramento NAACP-commissioned report analyzing state department data found in 2018.

Black boys in kindergarten through third grade were nearly 10 times more likely to be suspended compared to the state average.

“They’re writing off African American boys, ‘Oh they just have behavioral problems, oh, they’re just bad,’ “ Johnson said.

The last few days have been an “emotional, stressful roller coaster” for the family, Johnson said. The day after the incident, Johnson told the school she would pull her children from the daycare’s fall enrollment. Her son is doing therapy sessions, and cries all the time because he misses his friends, she said.

Though the employee who allegedly injured Johnson’s son has been fired, her attorney Justin Ward said the daycare has yet to take full responsibility for the incident. His firm will likely pursue legal action against the daycare on behalf of Johnson’s family, he said, and is starting to investigate whether there is a pattern of negligence or racial bias at the daycare.

“I cried when he was getting X-rayed,” Johnson said. She had always imagined the first time her son would get an X-ray, it would’ve been because he got injured playing baseball or some other sport he loved.

“Not because of a teacher at a school we pay to attend,” she said. Johnson said the school has still not refunded her family the $360 fall registration fee.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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