Preschool sued after child's alleged abuse by other student

David Yates Jun. 16, 2008, 8:31am

After learning a church-run preschool had been cited by the state 35 times over the past three years, two fuming parents filed suit against Wesley United Methodist Church � alleging the "wrongdoers seem to like to 'talk the talk' of safety instead of actually 'walk that walk' to protect children."

Identified only as John and Jane H, the couple filed the suit on behalf of their 4 year old, who attended Wesley Day School. The suit, filed June 12 in Jefferson County district court, also names the church's pastor Robert Besser and Beverly Stewart as defendants.

According to the church's Web site, Wesley Preshool is a non-profit organization housed in Wesley United Methodist Church in Beaumont. The school is self sustaining but under the umbrella of the church.

The plaintiffs allege that their daughter was molested by another young child while under the supervision of Wesley Day School employees. The allegations surfaced after a tip was called in to a child abuse hotline in January.

In February, The Record reported on a restraining order issued against Wesley United, prohibiting the church from tampering with or destroying any evidence that might prove allegations of inappropriate touching between two children.

Attorney Tim Ferguson, representing the plaintiffs, writes "Texas legislature has made it clear � that children are entitled to special protections to prevent inadequate care by day schools, and the parents of KH correctly relied upon the 'so-called' representations of Wesley Day School to provide a healthy and safe environment for their children."

"Wesley Day School does not hesitate to charge the children's parents money for the 'privilege' of attending their school. Inexcusably, Wesley 'chose' to not inform those parents that it has been cited by the state of Texas on at least 35 occasions over the past three years for failing to comply with the statutory minimum standards in protecting their children."

Some of the citations listed in the suit include failing to keep young children protected against electrical outlets and leaving bleach and other toxic chemicals in areas to which young children have direct access.

"Wesley Day School has embarked upon the inexcusable public relations ploy of claiming on TV that they are 'somehow' pleased with the multitude of undisclosed significant infractions placing children in their care at great risk," the suit says.

"Wrongdoers seem to like to 'talk the talk' of safety instead of actually 'walk that walk' to protect children."

The plaintiffs allege that the preschool was aware of problems between the two children since the fall of 2007, including incidents of the offending child hitting, biting and pulling the hair of plaintiffs' child.

In January, the plaintiffs learned of the incidents and immediately requested that the children be placed in different classrooms. The suit alleges that management refused the parental request, but agreed that they would undertake a more close supervision of the offending child.

"Just days later, on Jan. 23, 2008, while entrusted to the care, custody, and control of Wesley Day School, this same child improperly sexually touched the genitals of (minor plaintiff)," the suit says.

"As a result of this sexual genital touching, this little child suffered severe and permanent personal injuries. Following this preventable improper touching, Wesley Day School did not immediately inform the parents of either child, nor did they promptly report the incident to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Child Care Licensing Division."

The child victim was examined by multiple health care professionals, including a sexual assault nurse, who "issued a report that 'within medical certainty' (minor plaintiff) was improperly sexually touched by the other young child while in defendants' day care," the suit says.

"The Church, and Robert Besser, the current Pastor, refused to own up to their conduct, and accept personal responsibility," the suit says.

"Instead, the defendants decided to call this 4-year-old girl a liar, 'lawyered up' and sent out written materials to other parents that, at best, fail to tell what truly happened under the inadequate supervision of the school."

Ferguson writes "Children are the greatest gifts from God. Young children are especially fragile, and when they are betrayed by adults the potential effect(s) and damages can be incalculable.

"When the betrayal stems from an entity which 'cloaks' itself in the spirit of God, the damages, in probability, will be permanent. This 4-year-old child has suffered preventable physical harm, mental and emotional damage, probable future medical expenses incurred by the parents, and all other damages available under Texas statutory and common law."

The plaintiffs are also suing for exemplary damages.

The case has been assigned to Judge Gary Sanderson, 60th Judicial District.

According to the church's Web site, "Wesley Preschool is fully licensed by the State of Texas. We operate our school to meet or exceed the minimum standards of childcare. State and City health, fire, and licensing offices routinely inspect the school. There is no discrimination in the enrollment based upon race, color, or religion."

Case No. B181-905

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