ROSWELL, Ga. — The owner of a Roswell preschool says she took steps to immediately improve the facility after a 2018 state investigation found evidence teachers “humiliated, belittled and threatened” students in their care.
Records obtained by Channel 2 Action News show an investigation last fall concluded with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning fining the Roswell Goddard School on Woodstock Road $299.
Parent Brian Connerat contacted Channel 2 Action News last week about incidents that happened last summer involving his son and other students at the school.
"May and June of last year, myself and other parents of kids at Goddard School started noticing some pretty serious changes in our children's behavior," Connerat told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik.
Connerat said some of the behavior included acting aggressively and being fearful about attending school. Then, one night, Connerat said his son told him about alleged abuse.
“He looked down at his feet and up at me and said, ‘Daddy, they hit me.’ My heart started racing at 100 miles per hour. I said, ‘Who hit you?’ He said, ‘The teacher.’”
Connerat said, at first, he brushed it off, but then, he said, he heard from other parents with similar stories, and he contacted school leadership.
“The school wasn’t helping us at all,” he said. “We would tell them our concerns and they’d say, 'Nothing’s happening.'”
That’s when Connerat said he decided to plant an undercover recorder in the classroom.
“It was beyond measure, far worse than anything we expected or imagined,” he said of the recordings he obtained.
In one, provided to Channel 2, Connerat said his son could be heard screaming for mercy after a teacher instructed other kids to “hug him” or pile on top of him on the floor as he cried for his mother.
“That day was hell for my son,” he said.
In another recording, the same teacher can be heard taunting Connerat’s son for crying for his parents.
“I want to go home … I want my dada,” the teacher yells. “I want to go home and get breastfed. I need a bottle.”
Another parent, Hanson Hodges, told Petchenik his daughter told them a teacher hit her, too.
"She stopped eating as much, started having night terrors," he said. "Stuff started going downhill."
In one of the recordings, an unidentified staff member can be heard apparently admitting to hitting a child.
“They don’t know the depth of why I hit her,” the person can be heard saying.
“The front knows,” another person can be heard replying to them in the recording.
Both parents said teachers told the children they would “pat” them if they didn’t eat or follow directions.
Connerat said he asked his son to demonstrate for him what it mean to be “patted” by a teacher.
“He came up to me and slapped me on my arm as hard as he could,” Connerat said. “At that point we were all really concerned.”
Despite the allegations, documents obtained by Petchenik show that Bright From the Start could not substantiate any physical abuse of students and Roswell police declined to prosecute anyone for the same.
The owner of the school agreed to answer Petchenik’s questions in person at her attorney’s office.
“On that day, over a year ago, we immediately terminated the four teachers in the classroom,” said Chris Dibling-West.
Dibling-West told Petchenik she was “disheartened” by the actions of the teachers involved.
“In the small snippet of audio that was shared with us, we heard teachers who were using poor tones of voice with the children and made some poor choices in words that they used with children,” she said. “It was totally not in keeping with our professional standards, which simply call for us to be kind and gentle with children all of the time.”
Dibling-West said after she became aware of what happened, the school self-reported the incidents to the state and then worked with investigators.
“We shared with Bright from the Start everything that had occurred,” she said. “They came out and we were just very transparent with them and we shared parental concerns.”
Dibling-West said the school immediately made changes, including putting cameras in the classrooms, starting a “stakeholder” group of parents to provide suggestions to the school on how to improve and increasing training for teachers and staff on how to interact with children.
“We put in place a lot of corrective action,” she said. “We’ve continued that plan of corrective action because we’re always looking for ways to improve our school.”
Parents told Petchenik they are working with an attorney and that legal action is possible against the school.
“Watch out for your kids," Connerat said. “Protect your children. Stand up for your kids because no one else will.”
Cox Media Group