West Fargo day care responds to two Social Services correction orders issued after near drownings in Casselton pool
FARGO - Cass County Social Services has issued two correction orders to a large West Fargo day care for its handling of a swimming pool outing in November that ended with two children nearly drowning.
FARGO – Cass County Social Services has issued two correction orders to a large West Fargo day care for its handling of a swimming pool outing in November that ended with two children nearly drowning.
Based on a Social Services investigation, a state Department of Human Services official concluded that supervision at the pool was inadequate and the children were in a harmful environment.
In response to the orders, Sunrise-Sunset Preschool & Childcare Center, 405 Main Ave. W., created a new policy requiring staff meetings before any swimming trip “to discuss the activity, supervision,” according to Social Services records.
The day care now also requires that all children ages 5 and younger wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket during off-site water activities.
The orders come as a result of a monthlong investigation into Sunrise-Sunset after a field trip to the Days Inn pool in Casselton on Nov. 11 went from fun to disaster.
Two 4-year-old boys who were not wearing flotation devices were discovered unresponsive at the bottom of the pool, pulled out, given CPR and taken by ambulance to Essentia Health in Fargo.
The Social Services investigation, led by Child Care Licensing Specialist Dede Wienckowski, found that while the day care did not violate specific rules such as staff-to-child ratios, supervision was generally inadequate.
“Obviously, supervision was an issue,” Wienckowski said in an interview. Still, “Nobody knows how they ended up on that end of the pool,” she said of the two boys. “It was just one of those freak things.”
Sunrise-Sunset left about 12:15 p.m. Nov. 11 for the Days Inn with 42 children and four staff members.
At the busy pool, Sunrise-Sunset staff members Alyssa Hoveland and Sheena McClain supervised children in shallow water while Gary Stevenson and day care Director Dani Lynnes monitored the deeper water, according to the report Wienckowski wrote following her investigation.
The day care children were not wearing any special bracelets to indicate they were with Sunrise-Sunset and few were wearing flotation devices.
Shortly after 1 p.m., two 4-year-old boys in Sunrise-Sunset’s care went after a ball in the deep water.
About the same time, Hoveland left the pool to take two children to the bathroom. Meanwhile, Lynnes noticed children fighting in the shallow water and went over to talk to them.
Stevenson, who was supervising about 10 to 15 children in the deep end, said a 12-year-old day care child was asking him where one of the 4-year-olds was. The 12-year-old told Stevenson “that there was someone under the water,” according to the report.
A witness described what happened next as “organized chaos.”
One of the 4-year-old boys was pulled out of the water. Stevenson started CPR and prayed as a second 4-year-old was pulled out of the water.
In the frenzy that followed, authorities were called and the two boys were whisked away to Essentia Health. They have both since returned to the day care.
The incident prompted calls for change from some of Sunrise-Sunset’s own staff.
McClain said she was uncomfortable with the child-to-staff ratio and wanted more staff on the outing, according to the report. McClain had never been to the pool before and “it would be good to know the pool area before taking children there,” she said.
She also said she wanted fewer children to attend the outing and more staff patrolling the pool from outside the water.
Stevenson, too, said it was his first time at the pool and he was unfamiliar with the layout. He also wanted more staff, in the pool and on the deck, and he wanted all children to wear a lifejacket.
Lynnes, who is married to the day care’s owner, Marshall Lynnes, said she had planned to bring five staff members to the pool, but “had to cut staff back” in order to staff the day care center.
Wienckowski said the day care responded appropriately to the emergency. The day care met the legal child-to-staff ratio and all staff had proper first aid and CPR training.
“They did what they needed to do,” Wienckowski said. “Accidents happen.”
The children who nearly drowned were not wearing floatation devices, she said, but that does not violate any Social Services rule.
Still, the Department of Human Services told Social Services to issue two correction orders.
Jennifer Barry, a DHS administrator, concluded “that the children were in a harmful environment and that supervision was not adequate,” despite the fact that staff-to-child ratio was legal.
Video of the incident, provided by the Days Inn, “could not provide evidence of violation or compliance,” according to the investigation.
Marshall and Dani Lynnes could not be reached for comment.