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Cobb daycare appeals state's emergency closure order | News

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Cobb daycare appeals state's emergency closure order
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AUSTELL, Ga. -- A Cobb County daycare is appealing the state's order to have the facility closed.

State officials want to close Bright Achievers Pre-K Center in Austell, whose owner was arrested and charged after a two-year-old was left in a hot van.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning issued the order to close the center late Wednesday.

In a statement, DECAL spokesperson Reg Griffin said: "Orders for Intended Emergency Closure are issued by the agency when it is determined that the health, safety or welfare of children may be in imminent danger. A DECAL investigation found serious rule violations in the areas of transportation and supervision."

A background check into Bright Achievers Pre-K found prior violations, including having unsafe playground equipment and a lack of paperwork regarding criminal background checks on employees.

On Thursday, Griffin said that an attorney for the center said they would file an appeal before an administrative law judge with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (OSAH). The center can remain open during the appeal process, Griffin said, but DECAL will have monitors there each day during business hours. OSAH will set a date for the appeals hearing.

Child left in hot van

The daycare's owner, Dr. Melinda Hamilton, was charged with reckless conduct, false statements and tampering with evidence on May 5 after two-year-old Zaryaha was left in the daycare center's van for about five and a half hours, according to police.

A driver hired to pick up children from local schools and bring them to Bright Achievers found Zaryaha in a rear seat. According to a Cobb County police warrant, the driver said the girl was "sweaty" and her clothes were "moist."

Hamilton met the driver and child at a Mableton Publix. But the warrant says Hamilton did not call 911 or seek medical treatment for Zaryaha, and told the girl's mother the child was only in the van for 15 minutes.

Zaryaha's mother Quantina Russell took her daughter to the hospital the next day after another daycare employee reported she was acting sluggish and was unusually thirsty.

Russell told 11Alive that Hamilton never called her to tell her what happened to her daughter.

"I feel like I should have gotten a call right after it happened," Russell said. "They tried to lie and cover it up. I could have lost my child."

Police reports show that Hamilton directed her administrative assistant, Dulce Lopez, to erase surveillance video the day Zaryaha was left in the van and to lie to a DFCS caseworker assigned to investigate the center.

When Lopez refused to delete the footage, according to investigators, Hamilton called a technician to remove the camera's electronic storage device from the daycare center.

Hamilton is also accused of coercing other staffers to lie to parents and police about what happened.

"She attempted to persuade employees to come up with this convoluted, false story in reference to this incident so that it appeared the child was left alone for only 15 minutes," said Cobb County Police Officer Alicia Chilton.

Were other laws broken?

11Alive has learned that Dr. Melinda Hamilton was convicted of fraud involving government family assistance money in Florida in 1980. DECAL says a convicted felon can own a licensed daycare but would not be allowed onsite during operating hours.

When we asked DECAL if it was aware of Hamilton's criminal past, a representative said it was "part of the investigation".

How to find quality care for children

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For parents looking for a daycare, there is a non-profit group called Quality Care for Children that has a contract with the state. It has a free child care referral line and website.

Parents can search for daycares based on cost, quality and location. The group also provides a checklist of things parents should look for and ask about when they visit a prospective child care facility. Click here for more: http://www.qualitycareforchildren.org/

Another resource is AllGaKids.org. Visit the website or call 1-877-ALLGAKIDS.

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