The bulk of the citations stem from an incident this summer, when a child threatened another child with a knife and teachers didn't notice, according to the papers filed with the regional office of the Community Care Licensing Division, a branch of the state Department of Social Services.
No one was hurt, but after hearing from children what happened, parents informed social services. When officials came to the center, they documented additional violations, including:
• Not enough teachers were on duty for a portion of the day, creating an inadequate teacher-to-child ratio.
• Two employees lacked proper fingerprint clearance to work in the program.
• One employee who lacked fingerprint clearance was under the age of 18, and is not supposed to supervise children.
Program staff was also cited for lack of supervision because of the knife incident.
City Manager Glen Rojas and Community Services Director Barbara Santos George labeled the citations "serious matters," and said staff is undergoing extra training to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.
Parents say the recent problems in the Belle Haven program, which provides care for about 50 children ages 5 to 12 years old, stem from the city's decision to transfer longtime employee Vanessa Carlisle to the Burgess child care program in March.
The move was explained by staff as a personnel decision, but was vastly unpopular in the Belle Haven community.
Leading the latest round of criticism of the city is East Palo Alto resident Marcia Dore-Perez, who has headed previous efforts to prevent cuts to the Belle Haven program and prevent the transfer of Ms. Carlisle.
"The people entrusted to direct the after-school programs safely simply do not know the state regulations," Ms. Dore-Perez said. "Is there a connection with these violations and Vanessa not being there? Of course there is."
Ms. Dore-Perez noted that she was the person to notify Mr. Rojas of the safety violations in the first place, as they occurred the same week he began his tenure as city manager.
'Looking for issues'
Ms. Santos George said the citations are less a reflection of the program, and more a result of parents being overly critical in an effort to get Ms. Carlisle back to Belle Haven.
"There are all kinds of things that occur in child care programs all the time," Ms. Santos George said. "If you start looking for issues, you're going to find issues. ... We do run a very safe, well-supervised program in Belle Haven, and we're going to keep doing so."
She said the employee without fingerprint clearance has the clearance to work at the Burgess child care center, and staff was unaware additional authorization was needed. She also noted the employee under the age of 18 is allowed to work in the child care program, but was mistakenly counted toward the teacher-to-child ratio because the program was understaffed.