Give the owner and customers of a north Fargo day care that's been in the news for all the wrong reasons credit. They are not going down without a fight, trying to use a mini-media blitz to get the public on their side.
Whether those who control of the fate of Curious Kids Childcare will be swayed is the question. Whether they should be remains another.
All 27 parents who have children at Curious Kids have signed a letter asking the North Dakota Department of Human Services to not revoke the day care's license (the signees include Forum reporter Tu-Uyen Tran and his wife, Erin Bieri). The letter also, pointedly, disputes a report the state used in justifying the child care center's closure.
Curious Kids parent Heather Ranck says the letter has been sent to DHS chief Chris Jones and the office of Gov. Doug Burgum.
"We love the care center we have chosen for our children. We love its vision and execution, we love the staff, we love the family community, we love Michelle," the letter states. "We trust her with our whole hearts, we trust her with the most vulnerable parts of ourselves; we trust her with our children."
"Michelle" is Michelle Roeszler, owner of the day care, which received notice it was having its license revoked by the state because of a severe violation in late April. Three children under the age of 2 escaped a fenced-in area and wandered toward nearby 19th Avenue North, a busy four-lane road that goes past Fargo North High School, a couple of strip malls and the Fargodome.
The kids were returned to the day care by a couple of passersby after a diligent driver stopped traffic in one lane of 19th Avenue in an effort to avoid catastrophe.
The incident was reported to local authorities, investigated and eventually DHS sent a revocation notice to Roeszler that included a finding of facts behind the department's decision.
The notice cited things like an unsafe bonfire, improper and inattentive staffing and an alleged comment by a parent who said her 5-year-old child commented how easy it was to open the gate through which the toddlers escaped.
Roeszler, who appeared on my 970 WDAY radio show Tuesday, July 17, disputed the state's account of the incident, as did the parents' letter. They owed the episode to "a series of unfortunate and unusual contributing factors" that occurred in "a short window ... on an unusual day."
Roeszler bristled at the state's use of the word "bonfire," for example, to describe what she called small campfires in a safe backyard bowl. She said an accusation by DHS that she asked parents to write a letter of support after Cass County Social Services and the Fargo Fire Department confronted her over the fires was not accurate. Parents, instead, wrote them voluntarily, an account backed up in the letter.
The letter also disputes the state's characterization that Curious Kids staff didn't know the number of children outside when the toddlers escaped. Parents said it was six days from the incident until staff members were interviewed, enough time for employees to forget. Roeszler also said the state's accusation that staff members were too young (DHS claimed there was an 18-year-old supervisor overseeing staff who were 13, 15 and 16) and not qualified to supervise was also inaccurate. She said a qualified, adult supervisor was inside and in charge when the incident occurred.
And so it goes in the letter. The parents, again, stand firmly behind Roeszler and call the day care's impending closure unjust, especially in light of what they say are other child care center's similar mistakes. The letter, and a letter to the editor written by Ranck, question the decision's impact on potential future day care operators. They've taken the tack of knocking the "heavy-handed" government.
"We write this, we support, and we stand behind Michelle in spite of this serious incident. Her record of 11 years of successful business in the State of North Dakota should further validate her," the letter says. "You will find a deluge of Fargo families, whose children have been nurtured by Mrs. Roeszler and whose parents can attest to her highest quality of care, that are loudly and stubbornly advocating for her to remain in business."
The letter explicitly asks the state to reconsider its decision and not revoke the license.
DHS spokeswoman LuWanna Lawrence said the department cannot comment because of litigation, but cited state Century Code saying a day care cannot remain open without a license. It is set to shut down Saturday, July 21.