A locally licensed preschool and daycare faced a growing number of complaints before it abruptly shut down March 8, leaving teachers without their final paycheck, according to multiple sources with knowledge on the matter and government agency citations obtained by The Signal.
The Town and Country Farm School, which closed after four decades of operation, had substantiated allegations of uncleared adults providing care to children, and that the school had been operating outside of the accepted teacher-to-pupil ratio, according to a complaint signed Jan. 14 by Department of Social Services Evaluator Brianna Reynoso.
After an unannounced visit by inspectors Jan. 18, the school was deemed lacking in staff and unable to meet the requirements set forth by the state, according to another facility evaluation report signed by the Department of Social Services, or DSS.
“As far as right now, the school doesn’t have any administrative action taken against them, and we did not close their facility,” said Michael Weston, a spokesman for the DSS. “They closed down on their own.”
The sudden closure left the school’s parents scrambling for child-care options, and teachers seeking compensation for their work. Town and Country Farm School representatives have thus far declined all attempts to be reached for comment.
“It is extremely frustrating, because that work week, I had around 35 hours, and I know my previous co-workers had around the same, maybe even more,” Ariel Plascencia, a former aide at Town and Country, said last week.
Multiple messages left by The Signal with the owners of Town and Country Farm School were unanswered as of Wednesday. The former teachers reportedly still have not been paid as of the publication of this article.
DSS officials were unable to discuss their concerns about Town and Country officials at a Feb. 15 hearing, due to the absence of one of the licensees, with a follow-up meeting scheduled for Feb. 21. “The purpose of this meeting was to discuss with licensees the compliance history of the facility,” according to a report filed with the Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division. “Due to the absence of licensee, Lad Lengyel, the non-compliance conference will be rescheduled for a later date.”
A follow-up report by the licensing agency noted Lengyel, acting on behalf of Town and Country, announced Feb. 21 at 10:22 a.m.: “I want to dissolve the corporation at this time.”
Former teachers and staff told The Signal they were informed March 8 the school would be closing, and that their final paychecks have, as of Wednesday afternoon, still not arrived.
Some teachers, who asked to remain unnamed due to the chance that their future careers would be put into jeopardy, said they had been asked to exceed the maximum teacher-to-pupil ratio of 6:1 on more than one occasion.
Parents had been asking the teachers repeatedly if the school was closing due to concerns some of the parents had, but teachers had no definitive response from the school’s administrators until the school’s final day of operation, according to two of the teachers who spoke to The Signal. Rumors reportedly had been circulating, former staff members said.
The teachers’ allegation could put Town and Country ownership in violation of state law per California Labor Code section 201, which states: “Employees who are discharged must be paid all wages due at the time of termination,” according to officials with the Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards.
“All wages must be paid at the time of termination,” said Paola Laverde, a spokeswoman with the Department of Industrial Relations. “When people do not get paid what they are due, it’s wage theft.”
DSS officials also confirmed reports of violations by Town and Country Farm School involving substantiated allegations of uncleared adults providing care to children and that they had been operating outside of the accepted teacher-to-pupil ratio. Of the 10 total complaints and reports filed against the institution since 2018, six of them came from the first two months of 2019 alone.
California state law requires a licensee to not operate a child care center beyond the conditions and limitations specified on the license, including the capacity limitation. This requirement was not met according to a report from a surprise inspection Jan. 18.
The report went on to say that inspectors also noted “infant, preschool and school-aged children being commingled” inside the same classroom, which, according to the report, “poses an immediate risk to the health, safety and personal rights of children in care.”
In a subsequent report filed Jan. 29, DSS officials noted that, seven days after the citation for commingling had been issued, Town and Country continued to “commingle due to a shortage in staff,” despite having hired an additional staff member.
“The facility has been reminded that it is against regulations to commingle the children in care,” read the Jan. 29 report. “Based on LPA’s (DHSA Licensing Program Analyst) observations, the facility was not in compliance per Title 22 Regulations. Civil penalties will be assessed due to failure to correct the deficiency cited on Jan. 18, 2019.”
While former staff and parents work to find new jobs and child-care accommodations, respectively, there are questions left unanswered for them regarding the shuttered school.
“The last time I reached out to the owner was a few days ago, and I finally got a response saying that the entire situation is in the hands of an attorney, and there is a meeting expected to happen soon — although no dates are set,” said Plascencia.
“The teachers will have to file a wage claim to request their money with the Labor Commissioner’s Office,” said Laverde, adding that an employer who willfully does not pay an employee’s final paycheck can face a penalty calculated by multiplying the daily wage rate of the employee by 30 days.
“They won’t be paid right away, because this is a process,” Laverde added. “But, they are entitled to their wages.”