EL RENO, Okla. (KFOR) – A local church is standing firm against Oklahoma DHS after the agency ordered its daycare center closed for non-compliance.
DHS said the Community Kids Learning Center will not allow state officials to make the required visits. The facility said it was because it was considered a ministry and not a daycare.
“We have never been a daycare. We have always been a church ministry,” senior pastor Danny Hart said.
Legacy Community Church in El Reno disagrees with OKDHS. The pastor said officers are no longer welcome inside.
“They were like, ‘No, we’re going in.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you’re not.’ It’s a church ministry. It’s not just a daycare that you can just crush,” Hart said.
Pastor Hart said the goal of the Community Kids Learning Center is to help parents. They initially registered with the state to reach more parents through child care subsidies.
Ten months ago, Hart said the relationship with DHS soured after Hart said officers stepped up investigations.
“It just got ridiculous. And the whole time it was so confusing. And they interviewed our assistant pastor and they lied about things I said to try to bait him,” Hart said. “It’s to the point now that they’re disrespecting parents or disrespecting teachers.”
Hart said many of the charges were incorrect.
According to the DHS Facility Surveillance Report Summary, there are substantiated and surveillance complaints dating back to 2019, including workers not having fingerprint or background checks, babies sleeping in swing sets, in cribs with blankets and other items and a DHS worker watching an employee remove a blanket from an infant’s face. Hart said he and the staff learned from each other.
“We have our correction plan and we are moving on. If it’s a continuing error, they don’t work here anymore,” Hart said.
In February, Hart told DHS he wanted to separate.
“I told them we didn’t want them here. We don’t want their license. We don’t need their license. We operate as a ministry of a church and the church is protected by the First Amendment,” the senior pastor said. “And I sent a letter to all the parents explaining that we don’t accept grants.”
Hart said the learning center then moved to private payment, asking parents what they could afford to pay. Hart was prepared to absorb all lost costs.
DHS told Hart that if the Learning Center did not want to operate with a license, it could follow exemptions.
“None of these really fit our situation,” he said. “What is missing from one of these exemptions is the church.”
Hart then played a voicemail message left by an agent for his department.
“If you can’t get us an exemption in the form of a letter, which you’re going to ask for, then we have no choice but to issue an emergency order. We will be there with law enforcement. And then you would have to call all the parents to pick up their kids, which we don’t want to do,” the officer said over the phone.
On Thursday, officers delivered a letter ordering the establishment to close immediately. However, Hart said the letter was not a court order. The officer on the spot would have agreed.
“‘So is this binding?'” Hart reportedly asked the officer. “He’s like, ‘No.’ But it’s the same paperwork as [DHS] showed other people in Oklahoma bullying them into shutting them up,” Hart said.
Oklahoma DHS declined an on-camera interview and sent KFOR the following statement:
“An emergency order to cease child care was issued to the Community Kids Learning Center on Friday April 22 because the program has repeatedly denied access to OKDHS to conduct licensing visits required by the law. The Oklahoma Child Care Facilities Licensing Act (10 OS, § 401-410), enacted in 1963, authorizes the OKDHS to administer the child care licensing program. Child care licensing standards must be followed by all licensed facilities because they are essential to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children; and accreditation visits ensure that minimum accreditation standards are met.
We continue to urge all Oklahoma parents to view their child care program monitoring reports on our child care locator at http://childcarefind.okdhs.org/childcarefind/”
OKLAHOMA DHS SPOKESPERSON
Hart said he knew the battle wasn’t over, but felt compelled to confront DHS.
“We will. And we’ve counted the cost, you know, of our reputation for all of this. And so, you know, it’s a just cause,” Hart said.
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