Update, 11:34 a.m.: The general counsel for the Division of Administrative Law informed The Lens early Tuesday morning that The Knowledge Garden had requested a continuance of their hearing late Monday evening. As of 9 a.m., Knowledge Garden officials were in a phone conference with the division to set a new hearing date. Stay tuned to The Lens for updates. 

Update, 8/9, 10:19 a.m.: The general counsel informed The Lens that the new hearing date will be September 10 at 9.am. in Baton Rouge. 

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has taken steps to revoke  the license of the New Orleans daycare owned by struggling nonprofit Operation REACH, The Lens has learned.

At issue is whether the center has been diligent in obtaining criminal background checks on its employees, even after several warnings from the state.

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The state issued a notice of revocation to The Knowledge Garden on June 27. Soon after, the center appealed that decision, requesting a   hearing with the state’s Division of Administrative Law. That hearing is scheduled tomorrow at 9 a.m. in Baton Rouge, officials confirmed.

Because administrative law judges generally don’t rule from the bench, it could take anywhere from 15 to 20 days for a final decision to be reached, said Cynthia Eyre, general counsel to the division.

The daycare can continue its operations pending that decision.

The state’s attempt to revoke the license of the Knowledge Garden is significant because the daycare is one of the organization’s last major sources of income. The nonprofit has undergone drastic changes in the past year, with AmeriCorps, the federal service program that provided the bulk of its funding, freezing its accounts after officials found “irregularities” in the way the organization handled its finances.

Operation REACH also shuttered its regional offices in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta last year, and is working solely from its headquarters on Josephine Street.

Its chief executive officer and founder, Kyshun Webster, is no longer collecting a salary due to the organization’s inability to pay him.

Webster maintains that it was he, not AmeriCorps, who ended the working relationship, due to the agency’s inability to make timely grant reimbursement payments.

The hearing comes close to a month after Webster publicized that the inspector general’s office for Corporation for National and Community Service, the national agency that runs AmeriCorps, closed an initial federal investigation into Operation REACH. The IG’s counsel, Vincent Mulloy, would not share with a reporter the outcome of that investigation, citing privacy concerns due to law enforcement information involved in the case.

Mulloy did say that an inspector general’s audit of the organization’s financial records is ongoing, and that the audit would be made public after it is complete.

The Knowledge Garden first came under state scrutiny for failing to have criminal background checks on file for its employees, child welfare officials said. In two separate instances in January and February 2011, the daycare was cited on that issue. Not long after that, the state put them on a corrective action plan. After the completion of the plan, the state found that as late as April of this year, the center still couldn’t show that it checked its employees’ history, said Trey Williams, a spokesman for the department.

Webster declined to discuss the issue on the record.

Williams said that generally the department moves to revoke a license for five reasons – a lack of criminal background checks of employees being one.

“Those five areas we consider very serious areas, but we also look at whether it’s a repeated offense or not,” he said. “When it’s serious and repeated, the likelihood of us revoking a license would increase…and in this situation it was serious and repeated.”

Williams said that every case is separate, but “based off of the history of the past two years when we have done this, in the vast majority of revocations, the administrative law judge has found in favor of the department.”

The department has revoked 155 licenses in the past three years, with 68 of those daycare revocations being for failure to provide employee criminal background checks.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...