ELLSWORTH, Maine — A local preschool that served students with special needs closed in September after the state cited it for a number of licensing violations that included staffers allegedly restraining and isolating students.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement of deficiencies for Watch Me Shine that indicated the director of the facility:
• Restrained a child for one hour as a means to control his behavior.
• Showed staff how to hold a child by wrapping staff’s legs around the child and holding on to the child’s wrist.
• Failed to notify the family of a child when she was left outside alone and staff did not know her whereabouts for ten minutes.
• Exposed children to temperatures dipping down to 55 degrees.
The director of the facility is Tiffany Petronis, according to the report. Petronis did not return a call for comment on Friday afternoon.
DHHS did not force the facility to shut down, but it closed of its own accord on Sept. 23.
The DHHS report also stated that “the director misinformed families, for example, telling one family they needed to pay $500 to obtain their child’s records and stating it was a state requirement. There is no department within the state of Maine system that mandates such a fee.”
Some staffers also were cited for violating state rules.
“A staffer at Watch Me Shine admittedly carried a child ‘like a football’ under his arm,” the report stated. “Staff also failed to administer prescription medications to a child in a timely manner. Furthermore, staff lost one of the child’s blood pressure pills and later found it in another child’s ‘cubby.’”
The report resulted from an unannounced renewal survey conducted on April 9 and two investigations on May 9 and Aug. 13, all in 2013, according to John Martins, DHHS director of public and employee communications.
On Sept. 5, DHHS’s department of licensing and regulatory services issued a conditional license to the preschool, meaning the facility had to address certain conditions in order to meet licensing standards, Martins said Friday. He said the facility was allowed to continue operating with the conditional license and pending an appeal filed by the day care’s attorney, but that it closed on its own. The appeal was withdrawn when the facility closed, he added.
Watch Me Shine also has a site located at 676 Broadway in Bangor, which is fully licensed, according to Martins. He said licensing visits at preschools occur annually. That site serves all children ages 3-5, as well as children with “cognitive impairments and functional limitations,” according to the program’s website.
The Watch Me Shine website also states that the day care program was started by Tiffany Nowicki, who is now Tiffany Petronis, after she moved to the area from North Carolina.
“One [of] Tiffany Nowicki’s young children, just three at the time of the family’s move, was missing the comprehensive therapy for autism that had been received in the family’s previous community,” the site says. “So Tiffany used the model she knew to launch in Ellsworth the Watch Me Shine Developmental Preschool and In-Home Services.”