The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) has determined that a former staff member at Primrose School of Eden Prairie is responsible for the maltreatment of several students in that person’s care from May to September 2023, according to a report released Jan. 10.
The staff member was issued a warning by the DHS but was allowed to retain their position, according to the report. However, the individual no longer works at the school, according to a school spokesperson.
Benjamin Adams, who owns the franchise preschool daycare with his wife, Lisa, has been ordered to pay a $200 fine for failure to report maltreatment. That fine is subject to appeal, according to the report.
After receiving reports of suspected maltreatment, the DHS conducted site visits at the daycare on Sept. 22 and 25, 2023. “It was reported that a staff person kicked, pushed, and physically restrained alleged victims” identified in incidents that were ongoing before Sept. 15, 2023, the report said.
A total of 20 interviews were conducted with seven facility staff members, two supervisory staff members, and family members of all victims.
The DHS concluded in its report that an unidentified staff member – not the facility – was responsible for the maltreatment of 10 children ranging in age from 25 to 47 months.
Under the DHS findings, the staff member, identified in the report as the “SP” (staff person), “was not disqualified from providing direct care services as a result of the maltreatment determination.” The DHS’s Office of Inspector General has notified the staff member that “any further substantiated act of maltreatment” considered serious or otherwise will result in their disqualification, the report said. The SP can appeal the DHS’s findings.
The report also concluded that six individuals considered mandated reporters at the daycare failed to report suspected maltreatment immediately. Those individuals received a letter from DHS regarding their failure and outlined “potential consequences for future such failures.”
DHS staff determined that “the facility mandated reporters, including one mandated reporter in a management role, had knowledge of the alleged incidents and did not report the incidents as required,” the report said.
In an email to EPLN, a DHS spokesman said that Primrose was ordered to correct the identified violations and submit a response to DHS detailing how they corrected the violations and plan to maintain compliance.
“DHS will determine whether the response is adequate and follow up accordingly,” he said. “Additionally, DHS reviews licensed child care programs on an annual basis and as needed in response to complaints.”
The spokesman cited the Minnesota Data Practices Act and the Reporting of Maltreatment of Minors Act in declining to comment on whether staff members were the primary sources of maltreatment reports or if any parents had complained.
He also declined to provide additional information about the staff member identified as “SP.” This includes whether the individual is a licensed teacher in Minnesota, if any previous complaints have been made against the individual, and whether or not those complaints were substantiated.
“Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, data on personnel in licensed programs is classified as private data on individuals,” he said.
Asked if the agency is comfortable with the SP continuing to work with school children, the spokesman said that staffing decisions at child care centers are at the program’s discretion unless the individual “has a background study disqualification that has not been set aside.” The individual in this case was not disqualified, according to the DHS report.
“DHS does not have the authority to otherwise instruct a program to hire or terminate a specific employee,” the spokesperson said. “DHS will continue to monitor the program for licensing compliance.”
Individual no longer employed by Primrose
Responding to a request for comment from Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN), a Primrose corporate representative forwarded a statement from Ben and Lisa Adams, Primrose School of Eden Prairie’s franchise owners:
“We have always, and will continue to, keep the health, safety and security of the children entrusted to our care at the forefront of everything we do,” the statement reads. “We have been cooperating with the Minnesota Department of Human Services and have conducted a separate, internal investigation. The staff member referenced in the report is no longer employed at Primrose School of Eden Prairie.”
According to the representative, the Adams’ declined further comment when asked if the company stood by a statement received by EPLN that was purportedly sent to the involved children’s parents by school director Lindsay Saniti, categorically denying all of the allegations in the DHS report.
The Adams’ also declined to comment on whether Primrose School of Eden Prairie had specific disagreements with the DHS report and whether the school had informed families with children in the school about the investigation, and to confirm or deny reports that several staff members had left the school following the investigation, according to the representative.
In their interviews with a DHS investigator, staff members reported incidents of maltreatment that occurred between May and September 2023.
Among them was an incident in which the staff person identified as SP in the report had one student in a restraint hold. Another student was near them, and the SP “pushed (the victim’s) head into the floor and asked him/her if s/he liked that.”
The five staff members that the DHS investigator found credible described a variety of incidents in which the SP shoved children to the floor, picked them up to move them, and dropped them suddenly. One described the SP as setting some children down in a way that the child “almost bounced off the ground.”
They described at least one incident where a student had hit a staff person, and the SP hit the child back and asked the student if they “liked that.”
The SP was also described as using a maneuver that person called the “seatbelt,” in which they sat behind a child and “crossed (that person’s) leg over the child’s leg” to restrain them.” Several staff members interviewed by the DHS investigator said that Primrose School had not taught them to use the maneuver.
One other staff member said that the SP “… was passionate and would ‘never’ hurt the children.” Two others conducted observations of the SP’s classroom and, while the observation wasn’t documented, told an investigator that they did not see anything they were “too concerned” about. One described the SP as having a “good heart” and didn’t feel that the allegations “matched up.” Both of those staff members said they hadn’t witnessed the SP hit, kick, or physically restrain a child.
In an interview, the SP denied ever physically restraining a child and explained the “seatbelt” method involved a child sitting between the SP’s legs. The SP admitted using a leg to restrain a child “once or twice” until remembering that staff persons were not supposed to restrain a child physically, the DHS report said.
The SP also denied kicking any child but admitted to questioning a student who had kicked someone, asking how they would feel if the SP kicked them. The SP also denied pushing or shoving any child. The SP acknowledged picking children up under their armpits to move them to a new area and setting them down, but it was never hard enough for them to bounce.
Several victims’ parents told the DHS investigator that they had no problems with SP or the school. One described SP as a little bit “tough,” and another said that SP “seemed more cold and standoffish.”
‘Maltreatment’ not ‘serious maltreatment’
The DHS report determined that physical abuse and neglect occurred and that evidence showed that the “SP’s actions represented a failure to supply (the victims) with reasonable and necessary care and a failure to protect (the victims) from conditions or actions that seriously endangered (the victims’) physical or mental health …”
Despite the SP’s denial of wrongdoing, the DHS report said that its decision was based on a preponderance of evidence to the contrary.
Five staff members interviewed “… each provided information similar in nature regarding the SP’s actions and incidents they observed,” the DHS report stated. “Therefore, (their) information was considered more credible than the SP’s.”
Given that several staff persons had observed the SP kicking, slapping, pushing, or shoving children, “there was a preponderance of evidence that the SP’s actions represented a pattern of threatened injury to children in his/her care.”
The report concluded that the SP did not meet the statutory criteria for
“recurring and/or serious maltreatment,” as the “substantiated physical abuse and neglect for which the SP was responsible,” were not classified under serious maltreatment.
“The physical abuse and neglect for which the SP was responsible was not recurring maltreatment because it was considered a single pattern of behavior,” the report said.
“Recurring maltreatment” is defined in Minnesota State law as “more than one incident of maltreatment for which there is a preponderance of evidence that maltreatment occurred and that the subject was responsible for the maltreatment,” the report said.
“Serious maltreatment” means sexual abuse, maltreatment resulting in death, neglect resulting in injury requiring the care of a physician whether or not it was sought, according to Minnesota Statutes.
Parent upset about lack of communication
An Eden Prairie mother of one of the victims identified in the DHS report told EPLN that she removed her child from the school the day she learned about the DHS visits. She asked EPLN not to identify her to protect her child’s identity.
Even now, only parents of children identified as victims have been notified about what happened at the school, she said. The school declined to comment on that allegation.
“All you have to say is ‘this happened,’” she said. “All you have to do is notify people, and that is responsible. That’s at least a level of showing that you’re willing to move forward and do better.
“We were there four or five months,” she said. “We didn’t care for this one teacher. We didn’t follow our instincts. We should have.”
Primrose School of Eden Prairie licensing reviews since 2019 list 17 mostly minor violations, all of which were corrected, according to the DHS report.
An August 2022 DHS review noted that all staff had not completed ongoing training requirements. Another violation in 2022 noted the absence of documentation proving that a teacher met qualifications. Correction documentation was submitted and approved for both violations, according to the report.
Primrose School of Eden Prairie is located at 7800 Eden Prairie Road. The DHS report indicates that the school has a capacity of 177 students.
According to the company’s website, there are a total of 22 Primrose Schools in Minnesota. The Adams also own the Chanhassen franchise.
Primrose Schools are operated by more than 480 franchisees in 33 states, according to the company’s website. The company, founded in 1982 in Marietta, Georgia, began selling franchises in 1988, as reported by Entrepreneur magazine. Serving infants through kindergartners and after-schoolers, it ranked seventh on Entrepreneur’s 2023 list of children’s franchises available for purchase.
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