In an incident on Dec. 11, the tip of the left pinky finger of 20-month-old Max Blank, son of Edgemont residents Jeffrey and Kathryn Blank, was severed in a closing door at The Learning Experience (TLE) day care center at Rivertowns Square in Dobbs Ferry. The facility, which opened in January 2017, may lose its license. Following the incident, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services notified TLE on Dec. 28 that revocation of its operating license is pending, and that the facility must correct its multiple health and safety violations.
The center serves children ages 6 weeks to 6 years old and has continued to operate for the past month.
Max’s parents were at work in Manhattan at the time their son was injured. Jeffrey Blank is an attorney and Kathryn Blank is director of media strategy and planning at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
According to the incident report filed by TLE on Dec. 11 and signed by employee Kiana Lucas and director Shakia Reynolds, TLE called Kathryn Blank that Tuesday at 4 p.m. to tell her Max had an accident. Kathryn called Max’s grandparents, Tom and Nancy Blank, who also live in Edgemont, and asked them to pick up Max.
A teacher had wrapped Max’s bleeding finger in a paper towel with ice, but the towel came off and revealed the exposed bone of his pinky. The staff had the severed tip, similarly wrapped. Max’s grandparents rushed him to White Plains Hospital, where the toddler’s parents met them. Hand surgeon Brenon Abernathie reattached the tip of Max’s pinky and Max went home that night.
After an email exchange on Dec. 12 between Jeffrey Blank and Michael Shafir, TLE’s senior vice president and general counsel, Shafir sent the Blanks the incident report and a parent handbook outlining the emergency protocol TLE’s 227 centers nationwide should follow.
TLE’s website states that centers are equipped with cameras in each classroom, monitored by administrative personnel. According to Blank, when he called TLE regional manager Megan Dwyer for the security footage, she told him the footage didn’t exist because the cameras weren’t recording.
Though the Blanks copied the center on several of their emails, they received responses from Shafir and Dwyer instead. “The facility hasn’t communicated at all,” Blank told this reporter, “and the last communication with corporate was on Dec. 17.” In an email that day, Dwyer wrote, “We certainly regret the inconvenience this has caused you and your family.”
“Everyone regretted this happened,” Blank said, “but they weren’t taking any ownership for the errors. There can be no doubt that they handled it improperly after it happened. The fact that they kept the fingertip shows that it was willful and they didn’t want to inform us.”
After an investigation, TLE’s license was suspended on Dec. 20. On Dec. 28, TLE and OCFS reached an agreement allowing classrooms staffed with qualified staff to operate, and the suspension was lifted. The facility paid a $5,000 fine and agreed to correct its violations; limited child care is permitted. A revocation is pending until the conditions of the agreement are met. The violations include failure to thoroughly investigate whether workers or potential employees had criminal and child abuse records, keep medication information updated, provide adequate staff training and address multiple health conditions.
“The Office of Children and Family Services and the child care program entered into an agreement on December 28,” OCFS assistant commissioner for communications Monica Mahaffey confirmed to this reporter. “Child care programs are entitled to hearings, but this provider entered an agreement with OCFS rather than have a hearing. The license revocation will be pending until TLE meets all the conditions of the agreement.”
A court or administrative judge will issue the final decision on whether to revoke TLE’s license.
“There will be a lot of eyes on it now, which was our goal,” Blank added. However, he hasn’t been told whether TLE must meet a deadline. “What determines what’s unsafe enough that they should be closed is essentially within the State’s discretion. It’s odd that some facilities are hanging out in that pending revocation status for a long time with violations.”
On Dec. 15, the Blanks notified the facility by email that they were withdrawing Max from TLE, which charges approximately $2,000 a month for full-time care.
TLE spokesperson Greg Salsburg responded to questions from this reporter with the following statement: “We are aware of a recent incident that occurred. Out of respect for the privacy of our families, we do not comment on specific incidents, but we have been working closely with state regulators to address the facility’s compliance opportunities and resolve any outstanding concerns. Supervisory staff member [Reynolds] has been terminated, and we have put in place executive team members with over 50 years of child care experience combined. We take this occurrence very seriously and will do all that is possible to insure the safety and care of our children, staff and that will always remain our highest priority.”
Reynolds had been in charge of day-to-day operations at the center.
Since his surgery, Max’s bandaging has decreased in size from what looked like “a giant boxing glove,” his father said. “He’s using his finger, it’s just covered up. Sometimes it seems to hurt him, and he holds it up and says, ‘Hurt,’ but it’s hard because he’s little and can’t tell us everything.”
Asked whether he and his wife will take legal action, Blank responded, “Our priority right now is to make sure [Max] heals OK and to find him someplace safe to be. The rest we’ll figure out later. The day-to-day challenges of this are quite enough without thinking about that.”