The Springfield Jewish Community Center Early Learning Center is under fire after a mother's recent post on social media.
"One of the most stress inducing aspects of being a parents in entrusting your child in the care of others," Erica Giroux writes on Facebook. "I feel compelled to finally publicly share our personal horror story that happened while my son was a student at the Springfield Jewish Community Center Early Learning Center."
The Giroux's registered their son Jace for the Early Learning Center at the end of February 2018. The family filled out paperwork, including a pick up sheet that listed who was authorized to pick up their son, Jace. "He was not to be released to anyone not on our sheet." In addition, the family received key fobs to access the restricted Early Learning Center section of the Jewish Community Center. "No one without a key card we were told, was authorized into that section of the building which housed all the classrooms. If someone was let [in] they had to go to the front desk of the JCC and be radioed in to the secured section."
In April of 2018, Giroux received a call claiming that there had been a mix up at pick up. According to Giroux, a grandparent of another student had gone to the ELC office and asked to pick up a child with a name similar to Jace's. "The secretary misheard, and brought the grandmother to my son's classroom thinking she had said his name," failing to ask for ID or check her credentials against the pick up sheet. Jace, who had been sleeping at the time, was awakened from his nap. "My then newly 3 year son was released into the care of a complete stranger," Giroux recounts.
"The director of the program quickly assured me that the mistake was caught right away and my son only proceeded to make it to the end of the hallway being held by this woman before the mistake was caught and he was returned to nap time in his classroom."
Following the incident, Giroux and her husband met with the director twice to discuss their concern. "I was assured there was disciplinary action taken and meetings were had to go over safety procedures with all faculty to ensure another mix up never happened."
Giroux was familiar with the program, having attended camp there as a child. "I grew up with friends and family working at the JCC and even was a camp counselor there when I was a teen.... We did not want to uproot his entire life and were given every insurance that this was a slight mix up and was corrected immediately. Except it wasn't a slight mix up and we had no idea at the time how serious it was."
In March and April of 2019, nearly a year after the initial incident, the now four-year-old began repeatedly mentioning the event.
"Mom, please do not let the mean lady take me at school."
"Mom, after I swim will the mean lady take me?"
"Mom, do you remember when the mean lady took me and put me in her car?"
"Over and over and over again," Giroux writes. "The same frenzied comments. I sat him down one day and asked him to tell me the story of the mean lady."
"I was napping at school. But it was not my teachers I have now it was different teachers a long time ago. A lady came in and I thought it was you and walked down the hall holding me. I was really sleepy. We went outside to her car and she put me in a car seat. I said 'you are not my mommy put me back' and I hit her. She called me a bad word." I told him he could tell me the word and he continued, "she called me a [obscenity] and the old grampa in the front got mad too. One of my teachers ran out speedy like the flash and took me away from the mean lady and we went and had ice cream."
"Being four, my husband and I decided to continue to ask him here or there to see if his story changed. It never faltered and the anxiety continued. We took him camping in May and he continuously asked me if I was going to let strangers take him. I felt horrible."
Giroux discussed her son's account with the administration in May 2019.
"It was confirmed during this that there had been talk of Jace in fact leaving the building the year prior and that all discussions had quickly been shut down by the administrators and swept under the rug. The story I heard that day corroborated with Jace's story and was vastly different than what I had been told happened. My son left the building with a stranger and was almost driven to her home."
Giroux proceeded to write a letter to the director of the program, detailing her concerns, and requesting written documentation and the incident reports from the April incident. Five days passed with no response. She then sent a similar email to the director of the JCC on May 31. "I received a prompt but short response that stated the director of the ELC was on vacation. It also stated that 'I’m sure what you were told was the truth.'" Giroux also received a reply from the assistant director of the ELC sent through the director's email.
On June 4, Giroux received a response from the director of the ELC stating, "there were no documents from that day that she was able to show [Giroux] because they were in private personnel files." According to Giroux, the director claimed "this type of 'incident' did not 'fit into any of the incident report forms.'"
"There was apparently no proof of any of this happening at all and I was going in circles," Giroux writes. "It all had clearly been swept under a giant rug."
Another email to the ELC on July 3 prompted a call, despite requests from the Giroux's for answers to be emailed. During this call, the director revealed an investigation had occurred in June, yielding another shocking discovery. "She had found at this time that Jace was in fact brought out to a car but that the assistant director had seen and went out."
Over a year after the incident, and this call marked the first mention of the assistant director's involvement. Even more alarming, the ELC failed to inform the Giroux's about the investigation's results until after the family reached out again in July.
"The story had again changed.... How come it took a heated email from me to finally receive the information unless they were trying to hide it. I was furious. None of the story made sense. Not only did they put my child in danger they then hid the truth and did not document the incident."
A subsequent conversation between Giroux and with the teacher confirmed that her son did leave the building and the teacher ran out after him and got him. "She had gotten in trouble for an incident I was told didn't happen. She was outside with my son and was reprimanded for the incident but no one knew about it until June of 2019? None of it to this day makes sense."
While the Giroux's have received confirmation that Jace was telling the truth, the family still has concerns about the incident.
The woman got into the secured section.
Was brought into my sons classroom by the secretary to the director without checking her ID as she was required to by law.
Took my son out of the classroom.
Took my son out of the building.
Called my son a [obscenity].
Caused massive amounts of emotional damage.
There were so many safety precautions and yellow tape in place to prevent this from happening and yet it did. It did and I was told for a year it didn't.
Now, Giroux wants to protect other families from sharing the same trauma. "I sit here writing this in an attempt to protect other parents from making mistakes I made. I write this to protect other students from ever going through this."
"My son could have been essentially kidnapped by a woman who did not even know who he was."
"I write this filled with anxiety about entrusting him into the care of others again. But in the end I write this for him to let him know how sorry I am and that I will make this right by him by keeping him safe and helping to get his story out there to keep others safe."
We have contacted Jewish Community Center for comment and have not yet heard back.
Read her full account below:
Photo: Lawren/Getty Images
Updated August 9, 2019: obscenity removed from article.