Thursday, 21 May 2009 16:58
The owner and assistant director of Carousel Day School in Hicksville, where 2-year-old Olivia Raspanti died in March, were arrested and charged with felony reckless assault of a child by a day care provider, reckless endangerment and running an unlicensed day care for toddlers. The announcement was made by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey and Dr. Janice Molnar, deputy commissioner for child care services for the New York State (NYS) Office and Child and Family Services (OCFS) at a May 20 press conference.
Carousel Day School owner and director Eugene Formica, 64, and assistant director Kathryn Cordaro, 51, both of Hicksville, were arrested early Wednesday morning at the day care facility by 8th Precinct detectives and arraigned later that afternoon in First District Court, Hempstead.
According to Rice, during the early morning hours of March 17, Olivia Raspanti was present in a classroom full of children ages 2 to 3 years old. The teacher supervising the children allegedly provided one of the children with a baby carrot from a bag within the teacher’s belongings. Shortly thereafter, toddlers began taking and eating the baby carrots from the teacher’s bag, said the DA, and Olivia was found moments later by the aide choking on a carrot. The teacher, according to Rice, performed chest compressions, the Heimlich maneuver and finger sweeps of the child’s mouth in an attempt to clear her airway.
Rice states that, while the teacher was trying to use life-saving techniques on Olivia, she asked an aide to go and get help. The aide then left the classroom, stated the DA, and told Kathryn Cordaro, assistant director of the facility, who then came to the classroom and determined, according to a witness, that Olivia was breathing. Cordaro allegedly instructed an aide to call 911 but to instruct the ambulance not to arrive with lights and sirens on, so as not to scare the rest of the children, according to Rice. Minutes later an AMT arrived and immediately noticed that Olivia was blue and not, in fact, breathing. He rushed the toddler to his ambulance for immediate transportation to the hospital.
Olivia’s mother, who worked as an aide in an adjacent room of the facility, was allegedly not notified of the medical emergency until Olivia was en route to the hospital. When notified, Rice said that Formica instructed a maintenance staff member to drive the mother to meet her child at the hospital. Olivia died at Nassau University Medical Center a short time later.
According to the DA, prosecutors, detectives and the NYS OCFS began the probe of Carousel immediately after the AMT and police officers arrived at the scene. Rice said that site visits performed by police and investigators in the days following the incident determined that Carousel was operating an illegal, unlicensed toddler program for children under 3 years old.
New York State requires any person or facility caring for more than six children under the age of 3 for more than three hours a day to be a licensed day care provider. Rice said that at the time of the incident Carousel was caring for more than six children under 3 years old. Investigators have confirmed that between 2006 and 2009, Carousel’s illegal day care program operated a toddler program for more than three hours each day and that some of the students enrolled were as young as 18 months.
Rice said that even in the days after Olivia’s death, Carousel allegedly continued to illegally provide care to children under 3 years old and that Formica, the facility’s owner, refused to sign a Cease and Desist order issued by OCFS representatives a day after the incident.
The DA said that after reviewing paperwork obtained from OCFS and other state and county agencies, prosecutors have confirmed that Formica and his company were aware of the licensing requirements and rules connected to the operation of a day care center.
According to Rice, licensing day care facilities is critical because the license ensures proper safety oversight by the State, and that the staff has the state-mandated training and experience to care for toddlers (children under 3 years old) and preschool children. Mandated training includes 30 hours of safety and security education every two years. Rice said that of the approximately 25 staff members on the Carousel payroll, none had the proper credentials required by OCFS regulations to supervise toddlers or preschool children and only one had a college degree in early childhood education.
The issuance of a license also allows the state to ensure that facilities are following proper safety, transportation, health and nutrition guidelines at their day cares. Rice said that a spot safety check of the facility performed by investigators on March 31, documented the existence of many safety violations, including accessibility to teaching staff purses and bags, large plastic bags within reach of children, extension cords and unprotected electrical sockets within reach of children, and other unsafe conditions.
“By not getting a license, these illegal day cares can avoid oversight of their safety procedures and they can get around hiring staff that have the critical training needed to care for toddlers and small children,” Rice said.
Rice said the company’s refusal to get proper licensing wasn’t limited to their facility’s day care program or their staff, but also included the company’s operation of a bus transportation service they provided to children who attended the facility. Carousel has operated their own school bus fleet dedicated to transporting children to and from home and the Hicksville center, and also to Carousel’s after school program from several public schools in Hicksville and Massapequa, since, said Rice, at least 2006.
Acting on a tip, Nassau Police, OCFS and the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) conducted a ‘curbside review’ of the licensing held by Carousel’s 10 bus drivers. According to Rice, the March 27 review confirmed that six of the 10 bus drivers were not licensed to drive school buses. State law requires operators of school buses to hold a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Rice stated that, when interviewed by authorities, several of Carousel’s drivers admitted that the company knew they were unlicensed, and one admitted to twice failing the CDL exam. Rice also said that parents of children in the program were often offered reduced tuition in exchange for driving buses for the company. Rice said that the school bus investigation is continuing and that police and investigators are still working with the NYS DMV to determine the extent of any violations by Carousel.
“By not licensing their drivers they are able to avoid paying the necessary cost of hiring professional, licensed drivers,” said Rice. “I can’t think of many things more dangerous than having non-qualified workers driving buses full of school children. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”
Gladys Carrion, commissioner of the NYS OCFS, said, “Choosing child care is an important decision for parents. New York State regulates child care so that parents can be secure that when they choose a licensed and regulated program that their children are being cared for by adults with, at minimum, education and training in supervision, health and safety, and age-appropriate programming. This includes completing 30 hours of training every two years and comprehensive background checks, including the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment database, criminal history, references, and medical statements.”
Rice added, “Accidents happen at even the safest and most professional facilities. But when you’re running a facility that is dodging state safety oversight, employing aides without any experience or training, and using unqualified bus drivers, the chances an accident will happen go through the roof.”
Formica and Cordaro have each been charged with reckless assault of a child by a day care provider; reckless endangerment – 2nd degree; misrepresentation by a child care provider; and violation of Social Services Law 390. The assault charge is a Class E felony, while the remaining charges are misdemeanors. Carousel Day School has also been charged with the above crimes and will be subjected to monetary fines if found guilty.
Handling the prosecution of the case are Assistant District Attorneys Diane Peress and Anne Donnelly, bureau chief and deputy bureau chief, respectively, of the DA’s Economic Crimes Bureau. Formica is being represented by Mark Gann, Esq. and Cordaro is being represented by Sal Marinello, Esq.
Rice made special mention of the work performed collaboratively by the prosecutors involved, Economic Crimes Bureau paralegal Maria Marcigliano; 8th Precinct Lieutenant Louis Monteleone and Detective Paul Giambona; OCFS Assistant Deputy Counsel Edward Watkins of the Bureau of Child Care Enforcement; and Robin Beller, manager; Sarah Beyer-Ellis, licensing supervisor; and Peter Cannataro, licensing specialist of the Long Island Regional Office, Division of Child Care Services. Rice also thanked the NYS Department of Education, Nassau County Child Protective Services and the NYS DMV for their assistance in the investigation.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.