A child-care worker has been fired from a Largo day-care center after county licensing investigators said she disciplined one child for biting toys by putting a vinegar-soaked tissue in the child's mouth and spanked another child.
The worker, Jacqueline Bailey, 29, had worked at Fun 'n Friends Learning Center about four months when she was fired this month.
The same investigation, conducted by the Pinellas County License Board for Children's Centers & Family Day Care Homes, said that the center's director, Dee Kramer, took a child into the restroom and simulated a spanking by slapping her own thigh.
Such an action is a violation of county licensing rules, said licensing specialist Marsha Strong.
Kramer, who remains the center's director, refused to comment.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services also are investigating complaints against the center, though neither agency would say what kind of complaints it has received.
Pinellas day-care licensing rules prohibit spanking or other physical punishment. Discipline related to food, rest or toileting, and punishment that is severe, humiliating or frightening, also are prohibited.
Fun 'n Friends, 11775 Walsingham Road, is a day-care center for children age 2 through school age that is licensed for 49 children.
Center owner Christopher Lane said he fired Bailey as soon as he found out about the investigators' accusations. Bailey could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Lane said Kramer, who has been the center's director for 18 months, still has his confidence. He said he believes the allegation against her was made by a disgruntled person.
"Dee is a highly respected member of the early-childhood education community, well-known and well-respected," Lane said. "She is a sensitive and caring individual."
The center was cited in 1994 after the licensing board said a staff member spoke inappropriately to a child. In 1993, Lane, the center's owner, bit a 2-year-old as discipline for biting, an action Lane admitted.
Other problems have included inaccurate attendance records, incomplete immunization records, missing emergency medical release forms and, for two children, no files at all.
Inspections also had noted dirty or broken toys or playground equipment.
If further violations in discipline, safety or record-keeping are found, the center may be fined, according to a letter from the program director of the licensing agency.
Lane, who said he has owned the center for more than four years, pointed to its gardening program that pairs children with residents of a nursing home and to its work with 4-H as signs that Fun 'n Friends is a good center.
The recent problems cited by the licensing board "are isolated and inconsistent with the quality of care children receive in our center," he said. "I've worked with children for 25 years, and hope we can continue to offer quality services to children for a long time to come."