Parents Raise Questions About Pre-K Oversight After School’s Sudden Closure

By Carol Tannenhauser

Finger Painted Hands (FPH), the Universal Pre-K (UPK) program on West 84th Street that closed on February 28th with virtually no warning or explanation, had problems from the start of the school year, according to some FPH parents and teachers — problems, they say, they repeatedly reported to the Department of Education (DOE) with no results.

“It was a DOE Universal Pre-K school and I’m at a loss how the city let that happen,” emailed Vincent Terrasi, whose four-year-old daughter was in the program when it shut down. “It was grossly mismanaged,” he added. “They ran out of money.”

A spokesperson for the DOE said the agency had provided FPH with “additional monetary, operational, and instructional support,” and that it had been “the school’s decision to close with fewer than 24-hours’ notice.” The DOE also reported numerous site visits. “Our operational support team visited the vendor five times in the 2018-19 school year. Instructional support visits happened approximately every 2-3 weeks. A social worker visited approximately monthly. These visits were consistent with the heightened monitoring support from our team. The DOE directly responded to parent inquiries from this site.”

“But nothing changed,” Kathryn Tichy said. “I called or emailed the DOE 30 or 40 times.” Tichy’s son, Aiden, spent nearly three months at FPH before she withdrew him. “I even emailed the director and the Department of Health. Both agencies would go into the school periodically to inspect and say, ‘Everything is fine.’ And I’m over here saying, ‘No, it’s not.’”

The problems began when a leak occurred, parents told us, prior to the school year, in a second UPK site run by FPH, at 26 West 83rd Street. In September, the leak recurred, prompting owner/director Amanda Daluz to consolidate the two classes in the West 84th Street space, temporarily at first, but after another flood in October, permanently.

FPH rented both spaces from the Church of Saint Timothy and Saint Michael. The church was not notified of the February closing of the school; the rector said she had learned of it from FPH parents. She has not been able to reach Daluz, nor has WSR, though we have tried repeatedly. Emails have gone unanswered and the phone is out of service; attempts to contact her using non-school numbers have also been unsuccessful. “The DOE has been in contact with the provider,” a spokesperson said, declining to make contact information available to us.

“After the consolidation of the classes, approximately 30 children (and four teachers) were crammed into one windowless space,” said Tichy. “Most families chose to stay at FPH and make the best of the new setup.” That was “difficult,” she said, because of other problems, including “security and cleanliness” issues, and the fact that the room was “so bare.”

Former FPH teacher Sandra LeGendre confirmed it.

“I can list the materials that were purchased for that classroom on one hand, because I was the one that initiated most of the purchases and brought them to the school,” emailed LeGendre, who was terminated, she believes, because she did not protect Daluz from the scrutiny of the DOE.

“My instructional coordinator from DOE came with her supervisor and had a long conversation with me about the lack of books, blocks, and manipulatives,” LeGendre recalled. “I was asked if I could support Ms. Daluz in ordering items for the classroom. I stated that I had attempted several times. Both then went into the office to meet with Ms. Daluz.”

Two days later, Daluz fired her, LeGendre said.

Last November, Daluz called an emergency meeting to inform parents that FPH was out of funds, in danger of closing, and could not pay its teachers, parents said. Ultimately, the issue was resolved with the help of Councilmember Helen Rosenthal’s office. Still, Tichy said,“The question everyone was asking was, ‘Where did the money go?’”

Marisa Maack, Rosenthal’s chief of staff, offered the following explanation in an email she sent to FPH parents on November 9th:

The contract is currently held up at the Comptroller’s Office. The DOE has done its part of the process but I have asked them to reach out to the Comptroller’s Office to expedite and we will do so as well. In the meantime, DOE is expediting a loan for the school and I have asked them to look into moving even faster so that it can happen before 2 weeks. I have also asked that they provide something in writing to the school immediately so that teachers can be reassured that the process will be resolved shortly and their payment is forthcoming. That may make a difference for some. The DOE has said they will communicate with the school director.

According to several FPH parents, the school continued to operate, until the same situation arose in February. Tristin Wildstein, a parent, wrote this to WSR:

…Amanda Daluz told us that once again, FPH was out of money. Many of the parents have questioned where this money has gone. Nevertheless, we were told that our teachers were once again working without pay and that Amanda was unsure of how the program could continue. Not 72 hours later, Amanda announced her decision to close the school. And here we are. This is a colossal failure of the private/public partnership for UPK. Every single person involved should be ashamed. Here’s hoping for better experiences in Kindergarten…

“As of Thursday evening, we’ve reached out to every impacted family with other Pre-K options and connected 20 families to programs with available seats” a DOE official reported. “Approximately 24 families were enrolled in Finger Painted Hands’ Pre-K.”

Said Kathryn Tichy of Aiden’s new school, “It’s amazing. It’s like a breath of fresh air compared to what we went through.”

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 8 comments | permalink
    1. michael says:

      Amazing follow-up. I’d really like to know where the money went if, as according to the past employee, it wasn’t spent on supplies. I’d also like to know the specific complaints that were made. I couldn’t find a record of it on The NYC Health Department website, which regulates and inspects child care facilities.

      • anonymous says:

        It wasn’t spent on supplies, they had donations from parents that the director never let them use.
        Specific complaints included, messy classroom, with children playing in dirt, sink handles with mold. Director alleged that the cleaning person assigned to clean retired and therefore they couldn’t clean the bathrooms. According to the DOH and DOE these complaints, among others did not constitute issues.

      • Kathryn says:

        That DOH record existed when the facility was still in operation… I tried finding it recently as well. However, complaints filed to the DOE were not open to the public, from what I was told, and were only accessible within the agency. When complaints were filed with the DOE field workers, it was just processed for investigation. It would be nice if this could be open to the public because of its relevance.

    2. j..p says:

      Again.. these poor children and parents!! I had a bad feeling about Amanda Daluz the first time I met her. She is seriously the most unorganized person I have ever met in my life. She needs to be fined or something…

    3. Madeline lugo says:

      So sad to hear that this is happening! I am proud to state that I’ve been working in Headstart for 20years our Director has always supported quality services especially in the area of safety and nutrtion.Our Director is well known for being very stern on providing and educating our children,families and community in all developmental areas.I applaud her and would invite those families to continue to advocate for their rights.Give your childcare Headstart!!!let’s continue to persue and bring accountability to all those that placed it under the carpet.For those parents continue to be your childs advocate.

    4. Anonymous says:

      As a former employer, i would like to say how betrayed and stupid i feel. Believing this whole time by amanda that the DOE was screwing us, yet the truth does come out!!!!! Where did the money go? And why havent the teachers been paid! She still has not fully paid us what is owed to us! God doesnt like ugly!

    5. OneAngryMama says:

      City of NY should investigate this. Really, where did the money go? Teachers and landlord weren’t paid on time and probably are still owed their money. Also, if the DOE knew of all the issues at-hand from the very beginning, how closely where things being monitored? What was the quality of said “operational” support provided? The social worker assigned to that 84th st location was very clear that she could only provide services to the original classroom, not the class from 83rd st. This was a failure all around; what I want to know now is: where did the money go and what is being done to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

    6. Monika says:

      This isn’t the first time a UPK has closed virtually over night bc teachers weren’t getting paid. Two years ago the same thing happened to My Little Language School on 99th street. Where did all the money go that the DOE was giving the school for its UPK program? Great question!