Hewitt daycare owner claims business shut down without just cause, suing state regulatory agency

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Published: Feb. 10, 2023 at 5:32 PM CST
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HEWITT, Texas (KWTX) - The owner of a Hewitt day care whose license was revoked by a state regulatory agency earlier this month is suing the agency, claiming her business was shut down without just cause.

Shelia Brown, owner of Aspiring Future Leaders Academy, is suing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Her lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Waco’s 74th State District Court, seeks an injunction to block the revocation of her license and asks that her business at 119 N. Hewitt Drive be allowed to continue operating.

According to a letter from the agency filed with the lawsuit, the day care poses “an immediate threat to children based on the operation’s abuse/neglect finding, the number and pattern of deficiencies and the operation’s failure to improve compliance and reduce risk to children despite the plan of action and probation.”

The HHS issued a permitting license for the day care, which cared for about 75 children, in January 2018, placed it on probation for violations in July 2022 and revoked its license on Feb. 6, according to the lawsuit. The suit asks 74th State District Judge Gary Coley Jr. to issue an injunction that would allow the day care to remain open while the merits of the lawsuit and a request for an HHS administrative review of the revocation are under consideration.

Jennifer Ruffcorn, assistant press officer for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services, declined comment on the lawsuit Friday.

Waco attorney Henry W. Wright, who represents Brown and the day care, said he expects a hearing on the temporary injunction to be set later this month, adding he hopes to explain to the judge that the problems identified by HHS were remediated and the employees who created the issues no longer work there.

“I recognize that their position is advocacy and they have presented their arguments for their decision,” Wright said. “I think there is another side of the story that needs to be heard, and that is why we want time with the judge, to show that it is not as bad as the characterizations in the letter and the areas of concern have been remediated.”

Wright said Brown, a retired regional director for Child Protective Services, is taking a more active role in the day-to-day operations of the day care since HHS cited her business.

The HHS letter says its child care enforcement division can enforce action when there is a single serious deficiency of a minimum standard, rule or statute, including a finding of abuse or neglect; when there are several deficiencies that create an endangering situation; when there is repetition or pattern of deficiencies; there is an immediate threat or danger to the health or safety of children; and there is a failure to correct deficiencies.

According to the lawsuit, the two events that precipitated HHS investigations were in November 2022, including a staffer who was physically aggressive with a child and the second when the director of the facility made loud popping sounds with a belt to try to correct a child’s behavior.

A third incident “misrepresents the facts of the event,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Plaintiffs childcare facility does not pose a health and safety risk to the children in attendance there,” the suit states. “The violations cited in HHSC’s letter revoking the license have all been addressed and corrected. The plaintiff has taken corrective action to mitigate any further violations to the best of its ability.”

Brown reported at least one of the incidents to CPS, HHS and to the police and then fired the employee, the suit says.

The lawsuit also challenges the number of deficiencies the agency alleges it found.

In the letter to the business, HHS officials allege the center received seven deficiencies related to prohibited punishments (cited four times), director responsibilities (cited once), responsibilities of employees and caregivers – no abuse, neglect or exploitation (cited once), and outdoor safety, (cited once).